CERN Accelerating science

European Organization for Nuclear Research

From Physics to Medicine

Over recent decades, many important diagnostic and therapeutic techniques have been built on either basic physics principles, or the tools developed to conduct physics research.

Notable examples are the technique of positron emission tomography (PET), which emerged in the medical community, but whose technology owes much to research in particle physics.



Accelerators are routinely used in hospitals for conventional cancer radiotherapy with X-rays. In addition, about 40 centres around the world treat tumours with hadron therapy, an advanced technique of radiotherapy which uses beams of protons and other hadron particles. The development of innovative accelerator designs is crucial for an affordable hadron therapy, as the accelerators used today are large and expensive.

Accelerators are also needed for the production of radioisotopes, which are used in nuclear medicine for diagnosis and treatment.



High Energy Physics pushes particle detectors and read-out electronics beyond state-of-the-art to achieve the needed resolution, speed, granularity. These advances have been fuelling new developments in medical imaging since the first CT scanners in the 70s. Cross-fertilization between particle physics detectors and imaging tools is constantly bringing benefits to the medical field: these are not only related to diagnosis, but also to therapy, as faster and more sensitive detectors can allow for in-vivo monitoring during irradiation.



Grid computing allows multiple users to share computing power and storage capacity over the internet. CERN became interested in grids to cope with the data handling and analysis needs of the LHC, and is now a leader in this field. Grids are ideal tools for a wide range of biomedical fields, from screening of drug candidates to image analysis, to sharing and processing health records.

Simulation tools developed for particle physics are commonly used in a wide range of medical applications, as they can accurately model geometries and interactions of particles with matter.