State of the art cancer-treating cyclotron arrives at UK’s first high energy proton beam centre at The Christie

A state of the art proton beam therapy machine, the ‘cyclotron’, will be installed at the specialist cancer hospital The Christie in Manchester today, marking a major milestone in a national NHS plan to provide high energy proton beam therapy in the UK from next year.

Proton beam therapy has been offered overseas to NHS patients who are eligible for treatment in England since 2008 in a programme that has to date supported approximately 1,000 patients. Together with the Department of Health, NHS England is funding the development of two world class centres in Manchester and London for NHS patients to be treated in the UK.

The arrival of the machine this week at The Christie is a major milestone in the delivery of the national service with the first patients due to be treated from summer 2018, with University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust following in summer 2020. When complete they will each treat up to 750 patients every year.

Proton beam therapy is a specialist form of radiotherapy that targets certain cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It targets tumours with less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and is particularly appropriate for certain cancers in children who are at risk of lasting damage to organs that are still growing. While The Christie and UCLH centres are being built, all clinically eligible NHS patients will continue to be funded to travel overseas for treatment with NHS England’s established partner centres in America and Switzerland.

Chief Executive of The Christie, Roger Spencer said: “To be able to offer the world’s most advanced form of radiotherapy through the NHS in the UK is a real step change for patients, ensuring they benefit from local access to this advanced form of treatment, with potentially better outcomes and less chance of long term side effects. The arrival of the cyclotron is a huge milestone for the proton beam therapy project and brings us closer to the ultimate goal of being able to offer this treatment to patients next year.”

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England Medical Director said: “We want NHS patients to receive the very best care possible, which is why we currently refer individuals who could benefit from proton beam treatment to centres of excellence overseas. The arrival of this key piece of medical equipment at The Christie marks an important step forward in our commitment to provide from summer next year, this potentially life-saving treatment closer to home.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said: ““The Christie is a beacon of hope for people with cancer and their families. This new facility is another crucial step forward in beating this disease, and to have it here in Greater Manchester – the first of its kind in the UK – is just fantastic.

“At the moment people have to travel abroad to receive this type of therapy, but soon it will be available closer to home. This will make a huge difference to people receiving treatment, and their loved ones.”

The super conducting cyclotron is no bigger than a family car, and due to its high tech design, is just a quarter of the weight of many other cyclotron models. The cyclotron, which was built in Troisdorf, Germany, is only the 14th of its kind to be built.

Former patients Lucy Thomas, 11 yrs old from Ramsbottom, Emma Payton, also 11, from Gatley in Stockport will join forces to press an oversized button to start the 92 meter tall crane (the largest of its kind in the UK), which in turn will move the cyclotron into position above a 11 meter deep bunker.

The 90 ton power house has an iron yoke outer diameter of 3.1 meters (10.2 feet) and an iron yoke height of 1.65 meters (5.5 feet). It is capable of accelerating a proton stream made up of ionized hydrogen gas to two-thirds the speed of light (over 100,000 miles per second). That’s fast enough to travel around the world at the equator in about a quarter of a second, and fast enough to hit the moon in a little under two seconds.

The cyclotron needs to be very cold and uses superconducting magnets cooled by liquid helium -270 Celsius and coils of copper wire 25 miles long. The magnetic force of the coil would be able to lift the equivalent of 220 tons of scrap metal (200 small cars).

The cyclotron will supply protons to three treatment rooms at The Christie and also for research performed in collaboration with The University of Manchester.

In the treatment rooms the beam from the cyclotron is rotated on a gantry which rotates the beam around the patient to achieve the best angle for treatment. A nozzle delivers the controlled beam to the targeted tumour.

A patient’s treatment plan is approximately six weeks long with individual treatment sessions of 30 minutes for five days a week. Much of the 30 minute treatment session is spent positioning the patient properly and adjusting the equipment in the treatment room, with just two to three minutes of that being when the beam targets the tumour.

Over the last century, The Christie radiotherapy department has pioneered many advances in radiotherapy. It already leads in advanced radiotherapy, delivering more complex treatments than any other centre in the country. The introduction of proton beam therapy will allow it to continue to make advances in this area and improve patient treatment and care.