NIMMS: Towards the new generation of compact and cost-effective ion-therapy facilities
CERN has been actively transferring its technologies to radiotherapy for decades. In 2019, CERN launched the Next Ion Medical Machine Study (NIMMS) to develop cutting-edge accelerator technologies for a new generation of compact and cost-effective ion-therapy facilities. The goal being to propel the use of ion therapy, which uses carbon and other ions heavier than protons. Proton installations are already commercially available but only four such ion centres exist in Europe, all based on bespoke solutions.
NIMMS is organised along four different lines of activities:
- The first aims to reduce the footprint of facilities by developing new superconducting magnet designs with large apertures and curvatures, and for pulsed operation;
- The second is the design of a compact linear accelerator optimised for installation in hospitals, which includes an RFQ based on the design of the proton therapy RFQ, and a novel source for fully-stripped carbon ions;
- The third concerns two innovative gantry designs, with the aim of reducing the size, weight and complexity of the massive magnetic structures that allow the beam to reach the patient from different angles: the SIGRUM lightweight rotational gantry stemming from a collaboration with the TERA foundation, and the GaToroid gantry invented at CERN which eliminates the need to mechanically rotate the structure by using a toroidal magnet;
- Finally, new high-current synchrotron designs will be developed to reduce the cost and footprint of facilities while reducing the treatment time compared to present European ion-therapy centres: these will include a superconducting and a room-temperature option, and advanced features such as multi-turn injection for 1010 particles per pulse, fast and slow extraction, and multiple ion operation.
Several projects linked to NIMMS activities such as GaToroid have been funded by the CERN Medical Applications budget.
Through NIMMS, CERN is contributing to the efforts of a flourishing European community, and a number of collaborations have been already established. Amongst them is the project HITRIplus (Heavy Ion Therapy Research Integration plus), funded under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, whose target is to foster the adoption of innovative ion therapy technologies.
NIMMS builds on thirty years of CERN expertise in radiotherapy
Between 1996 and 2000, under the impulsion of Ugo Amaldi, Meinhard Regler and Phil Bryant, CERN hosted the Proton-Ion Medical Machine Study (PIMMS). PIMMS produced and made publicly available an optimised design for a cancer-therapy synchrotron capable of using both protons and carbon ions.
After further enhancement by Amaldi’s TERA foundation, and with seminal contributions from Italian research organisation INFN, the PIMMS concept evolved into the accelerator at the heart of the CNAO hadron therapy centre in Pavia. The MedAustron centre in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, was then based on the CNAO design. CERN continues to collaborate with CNAO and MedAustron by sharing its expertise in accelerator and magnet technologies.
In the 2010s, CERN teams put to use the experience gained in the construction of Linac 4, which became the source of proton beams for the LHC in 2020, and developed an extremely compact high-frequency radio-frequency quadrupole (RFQ) to be used as injector for a new generation of high-frequency, compact linear accelerators for proton therapy. The RFQ technology was licensed to the CERN spin-off ADAM, now part of AVO (Advanced Oncotherapy), and is being used as an injector for a breakthrough linear proton therapy machine at the company’s UK assembly and testing centre at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory.
For more information:
- CERN takes next step for hadron therapy , CERN Courier, 15 December 2020.
- European projects boost CERN’s medical applications , CERN Courier, 26 January 2021.