The UK will be opening its first NHS proton beam therapy facility in 2018. The two facilities, the UCLH Foundation Trust in London and The Christie in Manchester, had £250m in government funding approved in 2015. At UCLH, the facility will be located underground. Thick concrete walls and steel plates will meet stringent shielding requirements established by radiation safety experts. This unprecedented building will be created according to Building Information Modelling methodology, a collaborative process where ideas are tested and adjusted prior to construction. Clinical requirements encompass treatment for a vast range of patients. The system will be complex and therefore checks will be run on it constantly.
While the UCLH facility is clinical rather than research-based, data on treatment results will be collected and hopefully proton physics research accommodated. One such project now under way seeks to combine data from X-ray CTs and proton radiographs to reveal how protons interact with each patient and that, in turn, could enable targeting of treatment protons more closely to the tumour.
At UCL, a computer model being developed combines individual CT images with a signal charting patients’ breathing to produce a 3D animated model for more accurate dose delivery. A related model being developed has as its ultimate purpose the therapy beam following the motion of the tumour.
The focus is now on finding qualified staff. UCLH staff is work-shadowing at existing centres worldwide. UCLH’s engineering team could take over running the service from Varian, the equipment manufacturer. Clinical staff is being trained, including by a physicist with first-hand experience in proton beam therapy. The collaborative approach to the project should provide many benefits to UK patients, namely treating them locally thereby obviating the need for overseas travel and related complications, as well as radiotherapy defined exclusively by clinical need.
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