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Researchers from the universities of Alicante and Murcia model proton beams in water, a breakthrough in cancer treatment

Their findings show precisely how charged particle beams transfer their energy to water, the main component of living things, which has important implications in cancer therapy.



Alicante. Jueves, 24 de octubre de 2019

University of Alicante (UA) and University of Murcia (UMU) researchers have made a a breakthrough in cancer treatment by modelling proton beams in water. Their findings show precisely how these beams of charged particles transfer their energy to water, the main component of living beings, which has important implications in cancer therapy.

The work is the result of a fruitful collaboration between University of Murcia researchers Pablo de Vera and Rafael García Molina, and University of Alicante researcher Isabel Abril. They have developed a consistent theoretical interpretation on how protons interact with water, which is the most abundant substance in human tissue.

According to the research team, they simulate the process by which protons (elementary particles) accelerate, enter and travel in a biological material. Given the complexity of the different biological tissues, the study has focused on liquid water, as it is the main constituent of the human being.  


Alternative therapy to conventional radiotherapy

Proton therapy is used to eliminate tumours by depositing a high concentration of energy through a beam of protons. A precise understanding of the physics underlying the interaction between protons and biological material is essential for the creation of a model that allows energy to be released in the most appropriate place possible, i.e. the tumour.

Conventional radiotherapy involves irradiating the patient with electron beams or photons. This radiation deposits energy in the tumour cells, but before reaching them they deposit a lot of energy, which produce undesirable effects on the patient, affecting healthy tissue, as UA and UMU researchers explained.

Protontherapy does leave a little energy at the entrance and, by calibrating the device in use well, it leaves all the energy in the right place in one go, leaving practically nothing behind, Garcia Molina explained. In this way, and according to the study, collateral damage is minimised, as most of the energy is deposited in the desired place, thus being less aggressive. Protons, therefore, act with greater precision and cause less damage to healthy tissue by discharging most of their energy at the exact site and size of a tumour.


Future implications

The analysis carried out by these researchers of the interaction between protons and water is of great importance in cancer treatment. In the programming and treatment of proton therapy, it is necessary to calibrate the energy of the particle beam in order for it to successfully reach its objective, which depends on how it interacts with the medium that slows it down.

In order to achieve a suitable model that ensures that the energy reaches the precise place. We must get beforehand a description of how the medium, in this case water, slows down and takes the energy of the protons. The researchers have retrieved this information from the study carried out by means of the simulation programme they have developed.


EPJD journal featured article

It is a work published in the European Physical Journal D: Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Plasma Physics (EPJD), which has also been chosen as one of the outstanding articles, selected by the editors of the journal for its relevance and high scientific impact.

This accurate analysis has been the result of a joint work by UA professor of Applied Physics Isabel Abril, UMU researcher Pablo de Vera, recently incorporated into the Department of Physics under the Juan de la Cierva Fellowship Programme, and UMU professor of Applied Physics Rafael García Molina. 



P. de Vera, R. Garcia-Molina and I. Abril (2019) “Simulation of the energy spectra of swift light ion beams after traversing cylindrical targets:A consistent interpretation of experimental data relevant for hadron therapy”, European Physical Journal D 73: 209, DOI: 10.1140/epjd/e2019-100083-4


Article related:

University of Alicante presents more effective models for cancer treatment with ion beams


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