Petite Particle Accelerator: A Proton Gun For Killing Tumors
Since 1990, doctors have been regularly treating cancer patients using proton beams, which work similarly to radiation. Proton therapy is more precise, however, causing less harm to healthy surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, generating a proton beam requires a particle-accelerator facility that’s the size of an airplane hangar and costs more than $100 million to build. Thus, proton-beam therapy remains a rarity, with only 37 working facilities worldwide, 10 of which are located in the U.S. Just 10,000 people were treated last year, less than 5 percent of suitable patients.
Now scientists at the Compact Particle Acceleration Corporation in Livermore, California, are developing a 13-foot-long particle accelerator that costs about $30 million. Most accelerators use large magnets to generate the electromagnetic field that pushes charged particles. The magnets require 10-foot-thick concrete shielding and bulky hardware. CPAC’s prototype creates the electromagnetic field with electric lines, which don’t require massive shielding or large additional equipment. The new accelerator could be commercially available as soon as 2015.