New technical milestone on the way to full operation
The MedAustron team recently succeeded in bringing the particle beam into the third patient treatment room for the first time. This important milestone brings the cancer treatment and research center one step closer to full operation. The first treatments in this third and final room are expected to begin in 2022.
At MedAustron, the radiation of cancer patients is currently carried out in two rooms. Since the centre has been put into operation, more than 700 people have already completed their treatment there. The third room will not only ensure that even more patients benefit from this therapy option, but will also further increase the range of treatable tumour diseases.
This is due to the special nature of the room: it is equipped with a so-called gantry - a rotating frame that makes it possible to manoeuvre the beam around the patients. At present, MedAustron is limited to beam application from a horizontal or vertical direction, which sometimes requires complicated positioning of the patients or in some cases makes treatment impossible. This situation is greatly improved with the Proton Gantry, which allows irradiation from any angle.
The gantry itself is an approximately 12-metre high steel construction, which was lifted into the centre in several parts over the roof and assembled on site. Magnets were then mounted on it to direct and bend the particle beam - the largest of which weighs 50 tons. A total of 200 tons have to be moved to steer the beam around the patient. This is done with a mechanical precision of 0.3 millimetres and an angular accuracy of less than 0.1 degree.
Klaus Schneeberger, Chairman of MedAustron's Supervisory Board, comments on the recent progress: "I have been involved with MedAustron from the very beginning, but the sheer dimensions of the technology and the required know-how never cease to impress me. I congratulate the MedAustron team on another important milestone and am delighted that more and more people are successively benefiting from the unique ion therapy. MedAustron is not only an important pillar in the treatment and research of cancer for our city and the entire country, but also a center that makes essential contributions to the fight against cancer worldwide".
Now that the particle beam has been measured in the room for the first time, the next steps will be taken: Physicists* are fine-tuning the beam so that the right beam for every possible application can be generated at the push of a button later in clinical operation. The next step is to simulate the treatment to check whether the accelerator also cooperates with all other systems in the treatment room. Then all parameters are frozen and certification begins. Since the entire MedAustron particle accelerator is a certified medical device, each extension must also pass a strict test before it can actually be used for clinical application. This will be in early 2022, marking the completion of the construction of the MedAustron center.
"On the one hand, after a little more than three and a half years we are already experienced in clinical operations. On the other hand, we are working in parallel on the completion of our center and are constantly improving our facility, where our team is doing pioneering work in some areas. This combination, together with the research activities, is what makes MedAustron unique and is driven by the idea of further improving ourselves for our patients. I am very pleased that we are well on track with our plans and that the first beam in the third treatment room brings us closer to full operation," MedAustron CEO Alfred Zens commented on the milestone.
Photo (© MedAustron): Behind the scenes of the irradiation room – Alfred Zens (Managing Director) and Klaus Schneeberger (Chairman of the Supervisory Board) in front of the proton gantry.