A team of researchers based at the University of Birmingham (UOB) is conducting research to create a proton computed tomography (CT) image that it hopes will facilitate new cancer treatment.
The main aim of the team’s research is to simulate use of actual protons - as opposed to X-rays - to image the body - and in doing so improve accuracy of the final treatment.
It forms part of a larger research project set up to build a device capable of delivering protons in this way in a clinical setting.
“The research will give us a better understanding of how a proton beam interacts with the human body
Research fellow Tony Price
Proton therapy targets tumours very precisely using a proton beam and can cause less damage to surrounding tissue than conventional radiotherapy - for this reason it can be beneficial treatment for children, the researchers said.
Currently, around 100 NHS patients have to travel abroad for proton therapy, but it is hoped 1,500 patients could be treated in the UK by 2018 with new government-approved centres becoming operational, the researchers said.
There are around 60 proton therapy treatment centres around the world at present, and another 50 are under construction or planned.
Working via the PRaVDA Consortium, the three-year research project is using UOB’s High Performance Computing (HPC) service, BlueBEAR. The BlueBEAR HPC service was designed, built and integrated in 2013 by HPC, data management, storage and analytics provider OCF.
The team hopes to simulate 1000 million protons per image over the course of the project, and will do so 97% faster than on a desktop computer. A test simulation of 180 million protons, which would usually take 5400 hours without the cluster, has already been delivered in 72 hours.
“The research will give us a better understanding of how a proton beam interacts with the human body, ultimately improving the accuracy of proton therapy,” said Tony Price, PRaVDA Consortium research fellow.
“The HPC service at the University of Birmingham is essential for us to complete our research, as it gives us the necessary capacity to simulate and record the necessary number of histories to create an image.
“It took us only three days to run a simulation of 180 million protons which would usually take 5400 hours without the cluster,” he added.
The research team is tasked with proving the principle that a 10cm proton CT image, similar in size to a child’s head, can be created.
In doing so, it would be the largest proton CT image ever created, the researchers said.