Blasting Tumors in a Fraction of a Second


Accelerator-based technology being developed at Stanford University has the potential to revolutionize radiation therapies. Cancer patients, in particular, would benefit greatly as procedures become safer and more accessible.

Two concurrent projects, one using X-rays, the other protons, aim to zap cancer cells so quickly that organs and other tissues don’t have time to move during the exposure. This would reduce the chances that radiation could hit and damage healthy areas around tumors, making for a fast and targetable operation.


Delivering the radiation dose of an entire therapy session with a single flash lasting less than a second would be the ultimate way of managing the constant motion of organs and tissues, and a major advance compared with methods we’re using today”, said Billy Loo, associate professor of radiation oncology at Stanford School of Medicine.

In theory, proton therapy would be less harmful to healthy tissue as they deposit their tumor-killing energy in a more concentrated area inside the body. However, the procedure requires large facilities to accelerate the particles and adjust their energy.

The team recently secured a grant on 1.7 million to develop the technology over the next three years. “We want to come up with innovative ways to manipulate the proton beam that will make future devices simpler, more compact and much faster”, noted Emilio Nanni, one of the project leaders.

Compact, power-efficient, economical and effective devices being devised here could represent a “whole new paradigm for the field of radiation therapy”.

Dr. Billy Loo stressed that: “We hope that our work will contribute to making the best possible treatment available to more patients in more places”.