LBL, UC Davis agree to construct proton accelerator

March 27, 1992

By Lynn Yarris,

The construction of a 250 MeV (million electron volt) proton accelerator for the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento is one step closer to becoming a reality with the signing last Thursday, March 19, of a memorandum of agreement by LBL director Charles V. Shank, and UC Davis chancellor Theodore Hullar.

The memorandum establishes a three-phase plan whereby LBL and UC Davis will jointly plan and develop a "hospital-based" proton therapy facility that would be ready in 1996 and located at the Medical Center's new Cancer Center. The facility is to be built with help from private industry and will be used for treatment and research.

Beams of protons (hydrogen ions) accelerated to relativistic energies have proven to be effective in the treatment of certain types of cancers, including ocular melanoma. Because proton beams deposit almost all of their energy at a single point near the end of their trajectory (called the Bragg peak) rather than all along their path like x-rays, they can be used to kill tumors with minimal damage to surrounding tissue.

LBL has been a pioneer in radiotherapy research for more than four decades. Cancer patients have been treated here on an experimental basis since 1975. A beam-guidance technique developed by LBL scientists is being used at both the Proton Treatment Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center near Los Angeles, and the Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator in Chiba, Japan -- the world's first two hospital-based accelerators.

Researchers in LBL's Accelerator and Fusion Research Division (AFRD), led by physicist Jose Alonso, are now in the second year of a three-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which they received in conjunction with a similar grant to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, to do the work that will pave the way for construction of at least one, and possibly several, hospital-based proton therapy facilities in the United States.

After reviewing the state of the technology in the first year of their grant, the AFRD researchers are now coming up with preliminary designs for all of the components of a proton accelerator and a beam delivery system. Qualified firms from private industry are being invited to participate in these design studies; the plan is for a "construction contractor" to be selected in 1993.

For its design work this year, LBL is scheduled to receive in excess of $2 million from NCI. Some of this money will now be shared with UC Davis for facility layout and engineering research under the terms of the memorandum of agreement.

Says Alonso: "The role of LBL in this project is to provide focus and direction for the preliminary studies, and to ensure that the technology developed at the Laboratory in its 40 years of involvement in radiation therapy programs is appropriately transferred to a proper clinical setting. The leadership in this project will move from LBL to UC Davis as the project moves from the design phase to the construction and commissioning phases."