Early-stage research by a university team suggests that a new laser setup will double the energy of a proton beam – potentially offering a route to much wider access for high-precision cancer therapy.
While proton beam treatment is already used on some patients, in particular children with deep-seated brain and spinal tumors that are difficult to access, the equipment required is bulky and expensive. As a result, the high-tech approach is currently only available at around 100 clinics worldwide.
Theoretically, using lasers instead of particle accelerators to generate proton beams could reduce the size and cost of the systems by as much as 90 percent, to a point where they could be deployed much more widely. However, current laser setup approaches are unable to deliver the kind of proton energies needed for effective, high-precision treatment.
In numerical simulations, the researchers have looked at the likely effects of splitting a high-power laser pulse into two beams that are then pointed at each other. The research indicates that proton yield would increase by a factor of five, while the energy of accelerated protons will nearly double. In theory, that kind of improvement could be exploited in much more compact proton beam systems, providing wider access to the advanced therapy option.