The IFIC will host the first phase of development of a new generation particle accelerator, useful for the radiological treatment of cancer

The IFIC team in the
The IFIC team in the
The Institute of Corpuscular Physics (IFIC, UV-CSIC) will host the first phase of a compact linear ion accelerator for radiobiology studies. This new equipment will be built in the Science Park of the University of Valencia and will allow the development of one of the most effective future therapies in radiological treatments against cancer. The facility, which will be built over the next five years with the participation of different Spanish companies and CIEMAT, has a budget of 18 million euros received through CDTI.

Hadrons - elementary particles that form the nucleus of atoms - allow irradiation on tumour tissues to be modulated with great precision, which affects healthy tissue much less than radiotherapy. Treatment with ions - formed by protons and neutrons - is especially recommended for paediatric cases and radioresistant tumours.

"Ions surpass protons in antitumor activity and maintain selectivity and protection of healthy tissues. They are the radiotherapy model for the twenty-first century," says Carlos Ferrer Albiach, scientific director of the Castellón Provincial Hospital Research Foundation, collaborator and advisor of the project. "This new facility will allow us to be pioneers in the world in this equipment and to be able to develop very advanced research and therapy programs", he says.

The laboratory to be installed at the IFIC involves the development of a linear accelerator-injector for carbon ions (C6+) with an energy of at least 10 megaelectronvolts per nucleon (MeV/n), as the first stage of a complete carbon ion facility. At an operational level, this equipment will be the basis of a facility that will operate at the IFIC for scientific exploitation in preclinical biomedicine and radiobiology.

"Ion beam therapy represents one of our best future assets in the fight against cancer. The facility planned at the IFIC will be a tool that will allow acquiring the necessary knowledge about the effects of this type of radiation on the body. Furthermore, it will make it possible to develop new techniques that we cannot even imagine now," explains Juan Fuster Verdů, CSIC research professor at the IFIC and head of the project for the CSIC.

Innovation to simplify equipment

Ion beam technology is now mature. The real challenge is the generalisation of its accessibility, since currently they are unique equipment, rare worldwide, large and very expensive. "In pragmatic terms, it is necessary an innovation process that simplifies the instrumentation of the equipment and also enables the reconversion of the hospital spaces that are currently used. That is, make them more compact, simpler and cheaper. If this is achieved, it will facilitate a greater expansion of this therapy and its application for those patients who need it", explains Daniel Esperante Pereira (Department of Electronic Engineering of the University of Valencia), member of the IFIC and coordinator of this infrastructure in this Particle Physics Research Centre.

Recent advances in accelerator technology have enabled the emergence of potential solutions for ion therapy. "Linear accelerators based on radio frequency systems, known as linacs, represent a promising solution that provides a compact design with optimal capabilities for varying the characteristics of the beam, in particular its energy, shielding reduction, a modular design according to the needs of the installation and a lower cost of the accelerator associated with the smaller size of the beam", says Juan Fuster, who, together with his research group at the IFIC, has extensive professional experience in particle accelerator experiments at CERN and DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, Hamburg).

Unique studies worldwide

The equipment built at the IFIC will be used to develop this technology of compact linear accelerators with ion beams and its scientific use will enable unique radiobiological studies worldwide. The research program will address the first stage of the biomedical studies necessary to develop the first phase of a clinical hadrontherapy program. To do this, "the accelerator will have some flexibility in specifications, such as flexible modulation of the beam packets, a small emittance and a great capacity to focus the beams on tumours without damaging healthy tissue", comments Daniel Esperante.

Investment

The project has funding of 18 million euros from the Centre for Technological Development and Innovation (CDTI Innovation), within the framework of the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF 2021-27), funded by the European Union and regulated by a collaboration agreement between the CDTI and the CSIC. This is a Public Procurement of Innovation (CPI) process, a tool to promote innovation from the public sector through the acquisition of innovative solutions or solutions in the development phase. In this case, it was awarded to the firm AVS GROUP (Added Value Industrial Engineering Solutions S.L.U), a leading company in the design and development of equipment for science and technology.

The CIEMAT (Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research) also participates in the construction of the accelerator. The person responsible for this project, José Manuel Pérez Morales, director of the Technology Department, states that "the development of this team will involve the launch of a set of public-private resources from the state innovation fabric that can be positioned for the development of complete new generation therapy equipment". In his opinion, "it can start a new stage in the capabilities of the industrial fabric and R&D in Spain".