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discovered 02_2012

discovered 02.12 FOCUS WWW.Hzdr.DE as well as with eight of Germany’s universities and the DKFZ as part of the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research – one of Germany‘s six official health centers. These are all powerful alliances – all of them committed to furthering translational research. What this means is that findings from basic science research – like molecular reactions taking place in test tubes or a brand new idea from, say, the field of technology – can be quickly picked up for development and application – all in the name of benefitting cancer patients. Major areas of health research at the HZDR include new radioactive drugs for diagnosis and treatment of different forms of cancer as well as innovative approaches to molecular medical imaging. In addition, HZDR scientists are focused on the continued development and testing of laser-based technologies for future use in proton beam therapy. Here, the OncoRay Center‘s particular strengths also come into play. While the Rossendorf physicists are propelling this development along in terms of the necessary technology, it is the University Hospital doctors who are providing the exact specifications for how the laser-based particle beam should be designed to produce the desired effect in the human body. And medical and general physicists alike, at OncoRay, the University Hospital, and HZDR, are concerned with solving the rather tricky problem of determining the proper particle beam dose prior to and during therapy. Collectively, all of this makes the Dresden collaborative partnership very unique. Sparing healthy tissues by using focused rays In contrast to X-ray radiation, proton radiation is more precise and thus less destructive to healthy tissues in the tumor’s immediate vicinity. Currently, X-ray radiation therapy is used in as many as 60 percent of all cancer treatment regimens. Whereas X-rays give off energy along their entire path of travel – from their point of entry into the body to the site of the tumor and beyond – protons can be much more precisely targeted to the tumor itself. Protons – hydrogen atoms that were stripped of their electron – are the smallest and lightest ions – with the potential to completely obliterate tumor cells in the body. Their energy can be adjusted so accurately that the dose that was calculated prior to radiation is released once inside the tumor and in a controlled manner so that the healthy tissue in front of the tumor is exposed to only very minor doses of radiation and the tissue behind it to no dose at all. Today, proton therapy is used most effectively to treat patients with inoperable tumors of the base of skull or near the spinal cord in order to better protect the sensitive, healthy tissues in this region. But also children with cancer are deriving increasingly greater benefit from this new method of treatment. It is a well-known fact that new malignancies can develop several years or even decades following radiation therapy of healthy tissues that were at one time exposed to radiation. In spite of the low overall risk, the chances that someone would, at a later point, develop a new malignancy from having been previously treated with radiation therapy, are increased the longer the person lives post-successful cancer treatment. It follows, then, that the risk is much more pronounced in children and younger patients – a risk, which could be potentially minimized through a more precise, proton-based form of radiation therapy. At this point, however, for most of the roughly 500 different diseases that are collectively grouped under the umbrella term “cancer,“ conclusive data concerning the benefits of proton therapy over X-ray therapy are still lacking. And although doctors believe that new therapies may in the future bring about significant advances in the treatment of lung cancer or soft tissue neoplasms, this has to yet be confirmed extensively through clinical trials. The general hope is that their assumptions concerning the advantages of proton therapy will be validated and documented through clinical trials for a growing number of different cancers, which in turn would warrant their comprehensive clinical application. The problem is that, at this point, only a handful of university hospitals, whose mission it is to conduct this type of clinical research, actually have proton therapy capabilities. In Germany, Heidelberg and, soon, Essen are the only clinics with the proper equipment for administering this form of therapy. The cost of construction and operation of the necessary large-scale facilities lies somewhere in the order of hundred million Euros. And because the Dresden scientists, with their well-known expertise in the field of radiation research, firmly believe in the tremendous potential INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES: Saxony’s Minister of Science, Sabine von Schorlemer, along with Roland Sauerbrey (Scientific Director of the HZDR), Michael Albrecht (Medical Director, Dresden University Hospital), and Michael Baumann (Spokesman, OncoRay Center, left to right), lays the cornerstone for East Germany’s first-ever proton therapy facility on January 20, 2012.