2008 Dielectric wall accelerator for proton therapy Far West

More than half of the roughly one million people diagnosed with cancer each year will be treated using radiotherapy. Conventional radiotherapy kills cancer cells using X-rays that deliver high energies to the tissues they travel through, from the point they enter the body until they leave it. A more advanced form of radiation therapy uses proton beams that deposit almost all of their energy on the target, enabling doctors to hit tumors with more effective radiation doses than is possible with conventional radiation. Despite its usefulness, proton therapy remains available at only 25 cancer centers worldwide due to the substantial size and cost of implementing the technology.

The Dielectric Wall Accelerator (DWA) - the technology behind a proton therapy system that is expected to fit in standard radiation oncology clinics and cost significantly less than conventional proton therapy systems - intends to overcome these hurdles and make proton therapy more widely available. An offshoot of defense-related research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the DWA accelerates protons to the required energies for cancer treatment without using bending magnets or other techniques that take up space and generate unwanted radiation.

In 2005, the DWA research team, jointly funded by LLNL and the University of California (UC) Davis Health System, achieved component feasibility for a compact proton accelerator that uses the DWA. Efforts to commercialize the technology failed, however, because the project lacked a working prototype.

In early 2006, both parties took the unusual step of investing $1.5 million each toward development of a prototype. Because of the DWA, LLNL created a strategic technology maturation fund for technologies that provide a demonstrable spin back to a LLNL program or that can make significant contributions to an important national problem-this case, cancer therapy. The team then looked for a commercial partner that could integrate the DWA into a proton therapy system. TomoTherapy, Inc. was one of the companies that expressed interest. It officially submitted a commercialization plan in June 2006, and by February 2007 a license and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement were executed.

The successful transfer of the DWA technology is serving as a model for future endeavors. LLNL and UC Davis are now collaborating on more than a dozen projects that promise breakthroughs in the detection, treatment, and prevention of cancer.

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