Jun 05, 2019 10:46 AM EDT
Finding a cure for cancer had always been a battlefield for scientists. Although several drugs can slow down its proliferation, still a fully equipped treatment that can eradicate it is something that can make a big change. Proton therapy is used for killing cancer cells through irradiation. The therapy involves firing a beam of accelerated protons at the target tumor. Among the other treatments, proton therapy stands up because of its precision in targeting cancer cells and living healthy cells undamaged. However, only a few countries in the world have the equipment since it is large and expensive.
Efforts have been made and modern high-powered lasers that are less expensive and with smaller sizes are available. Despite this, laser generated by proton beams is still not powerful enough. Scientists from the Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology showed a method that doubles the energy of proton beam through a laser-based particle accelerator. The new discovery is a stepping stone for developing a compact and cheaper instrument that can be useful in several applications like proton therapy.
In the said study, a thin metallic foil is fired with a laser pulse, thus, resulting in a beam of highly charged protons. The experiment involves splitting the laser into two less intense pulses, before firing both at the foil from two different angles. Afterward, two pulses collide on the foil allowing the electromagnetic fields to heat the foil efficiently. This will result in higher energy proton using the same standard approach.
"This has worked even better than we dared hope. The aim is to reach the energy levels that are actually used in proton therapy today. In the future it might be possible to build more compact equipment, just a tenth of the current size so that a normal hospital could e able to offer their patients proton therapy," explained Julien Ferri, a researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.
The method is a breakthrough especially in terms of proton therapy. It is a superb technique for treating deep-seated tumors in the brain and spine. It can penetrate the body in fighting cancer cells given that the proton beam possess a higher energy, according to Space Daily.
"We need to achieve up to 10 times the current energy levels to really target deeper into the body. One of my ambitions is to help more people get access to proton therapy. Maybe that lies 30 years in the future, but every step forward is important," said Tunde Fulop, professor at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.
It is interesting to say that accelerated proton cannot only be used for cancer treatment but can be further use in other fields like in space. For example, it can be used in analyzing materials and make radioactive material less harmful. It will enable scientists to understand how energetic protons which radiation constitute a large part of cosmic radiation, has the ability to damage satellites and space equipment.
Further tests and experiments will be conducted by the researchers along with their collaborator from Lund University and colleague at Evangelos Siminos in the University of Gothenburg to show the feasibility of the method.
"We are now looking at several ways to further increase the energy level in the proton beams. Imagine focusing all the sunlight hitting the earth at a given moment into a single grain of sand that would still be less than the intensity of the laser beams that we are looking with. The challenge is to deliver even more of the laser energy to a proton," explained Tunde Fulop.
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