Cancer research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf

From improved diagnostics to effective therapies – that is the focus of the Institute for Radiooncology/OncoRay and the Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR). The activities at the Institute for Radiation Physics concentrate on developing a compact particle accelerator for proton therapy. The center employs around 450 scientists (1,100 staff in total) who are involved in a variety of health, energy and materials research projects.

For the purposes of cancer diagnosis, the HZDR Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research is developing radioactive probes and software algorithms for modern imaging using positron emission tomography (PET). In future, radioactive drugs could be used during therapy to directly irradiate cancer tissue within the body (endoradionuclide therapy). Work on equipping novel immune therapeutics with additional radioactive emitters is another area of activity at HZDR.

In order to progress in the battle against cancer, various disciplines have to combine their efforts. Therefore, HZDR has joined forces with Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital Dresden and the Faculty of Medicine at TU Dresden to create the OncoRay Center. Together with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) all of the above established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Dresden in 2015. The three institutions based in Dresden also work together with DKFZ and other partners at the German Cancer Consortium (DKTK). 

Laser beams to speed up particles

One effective method of tackling cancer is proton therapy. Since 2014, patients have been receiving treatment at University Proton Therapy Dresden (UPTD). The facility is operated by a consortium composed of the University Hospital, the Medical Faculty of TU Dresden and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf.

So far, large accelerator facilities have been required to generate the protons – which is why HZDR researchers are now trying to accelerate particles with the help of intensive laser beams.  And this is another example of OncoRay’s strengths: While the physicists at HZDR are working on the technical aspects of this development, the medical scientists at the University Hospital are defining exactly how the laser-generated particle beam must be constituted in order to achieve the desired results in the human body. And medical physicists and physicists, both here and there, are working on novel cameras to precisely measure the strength of the particle beam needed before and during therapy.