Biomedical applications

Our centre houses the world's first scanning focused vertical nanobeam, developed in collaboration with the Gray Cancer Institute and underpinned by the prestigious grant of £800,000 from the Wolfson Foundation in 2006/07 with matching funds from the University.

Research areas

Vertical Nanobeam

This technology is used to challenge and characterise living biological materials, with applications to cancer treatment and environmental and occupational exposure to radiation.

Radiation therapy is second only to surgery for effective cancer treatment in the UK and so this research has a large potential impact on patient survival and quality of life. The vertical nanobeam is also used to look at the processes which may lead to cancer and help to develop new treatments to cure it.

The vertical nanobeam at our centre provides data about the radiation sensitivity of tumours. Some tumours are known to be normally radiation resistant, but display hyper-sensitivity to very low doses. This means that a very small dose of radiation can  our centre is used to construct virtual tumours in silico. These virtual tumours can then be used to test the efficacy of different treatment strategies.

The revolutionary design of the vertical beamline was aimed at taking irradiation studies of living cells in culture to the next level and to underpin the development of particle therapy in the UK. The new world-class facility at Surrey is capable of irradiating individual cells in culture, or regions within cells, with precisely counted ions (from protons to calcium ions).

This is coupled with a state-of-the art microscopy imaging platform, developed by the Vojnovic lab (University of Oxford), to offer cell tracking, white light and fluorescence imaging, and environmental controls for the assessment of radiation response. The vertical orientation of the Wolfson beam line allows the cell dish to be placed horizontally and irradiated from below.  

Thus, the cells can be kept in their culture medium during irradiation and, if desired, chemotherapeutic agents can be added before, during or after irradiation to study the combined effects of ion irradiation and chemotherapy.  Studies on ion microdosimetry, which are pertinent to the development of particle therapy, are being undertaken in collaboration with the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the National Physical Laboratory.

Proton therapy

The award of a one year NIHR Invention for Innovation grant (£100k) will enable a SQUID based microbolometer to be designed and built for microdosimetry studies using ions.

In May 2004, the EPSRC Life Sciences Interface (LSI) funded the UK Research Network for the Bio-Medical Applications of High Energy Ion Beams. This network was instrumental in establishing the need for proton therapy in the UK and the need for researchers in the UK to work together to underpin its development.

The network was rated as outstanding in its final EPSRC review, and brought together research groups from the following:

  • Surrey Ion Beam Centre
  • Oncology Centre
  • University of Cambridge Department of Oncology at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge
  • Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology & Biology at Oxford
  • The Royal Surrey County Hospital
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
  • Christie Hospital in Manchester
  • University College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

One of the strengths of the research is that we work closely with clinicians. Dr Raj Jena a consultant neuro-oncologist from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge spends one day a week at Surrey, this was originally funded by Royal College of Radiologists Travel Grant and is now funded by Surrey’s EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account.

We also work closely with other clinicians at Cambridge including Neil Burnet and Colin Watts (and their groups) they are consultants in neuro-oncology and neuro-surgery respectively. Working with clinicians ensures the research is clinically relevant and helps us to translate the research from bench to bedside.

The UK research network was integrated ab-initio with a Pan-European network for particle therapy research (ENLIGHT, European Network for Light Ion therapy, CERN). ENLIGHT coordinates research activity across Europe's major particle therapy treatment and research facilities, including Heidelberg, Darmstadt, and Pavia and industrial partners Siemens and IBA.

European Network for Light Ion Hadron Therapy

Over 24.6 million Euros of funding has been obtained by the European Network for Light Ion Hadron Therapy (ENLIGHT) through four EU grants:

  • Marie Curie Initial Training Network PARTNER
  • Particle Training Network for European Radiotherapy
  • Cooperation project ENVISION
  • European NoVel Imaging Systems for ION therapy

Two Infrastructure projects:

  • ULICE – Union of Light ion Centres in Europe
  • SPIRIT – Support of Public and Industrial Research using Ion Beam Technology

This year ENLIGHT has been awarded a further 4 million Euros to form a second research training network for imaging research in particle therapy (ENTERVISION) and PARTNER has been cited as an exemplar of multidisciplinary training and research.

The UK research network has also obtained funding from two RCUK Basic Technology grants aimed at developing the next generation accelerators for particle therapy LIBRA - new laser-powered technology and CONFORM – a compact, versatile accelerator for particle therapy.

The group has also developed extensive experience with in-silico modelling methodologies spanning a range of length scales. Cell-cycle based models have been used to study the phase dependence of radiation sensitivity, map the potential evolutionary dynamics of brain tumour stem cells, predict patterns of glioblastoma migration through the brain, and even study the effects of changing radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments for a population of patients with glioblastoma Tumours.

Modelling is used as a hypothesis-generating exercise for correlation with subsequent clinical or experimental data, and even for clinical resource planning and clinical trial development. The group was recently awarded a £100,000 research award by the NHS National Cancer Action Team to develop a new model for radiotherapy demand across the whole of England.

Through the ENLIGHT partnership a research collaboration has been built with Dr Annelie Meijer at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, this involves the joint supervision of doctoral researchers and carrying out joint experiments.

The Karolinska Institute conducts pioneering research in the field of radiation biology and through this collaboration we have access to the International laboratory at the HIMAC facility in CHIBA in Japan.

HIMAC pioneered the use of particle therapy in Japan and has treated more patients than any other facility in the world with light ions. In addition to its patient treatment facilities HIMAC also has a research beamline and this is where we are conducting some of our experiments at clinically relevant energies. As well as our research collaborations with the major treatment facilities in Europe and Japan we are also developing collaborations with some of the facilities in the USA. 

On August 18 2009 Ann Keen, the then Health Minister, asked hospitals in England to bid to host new centres for proton beam therapy.  In September 2010 the decision was made to build proton therapy centres in England. The Wolfson vertical nanobeam in the IBC will provide research to underpin the development of these new centres.

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Ion Beam Centre
Advanced Technology Institute
University of Surrey