Meeting of the minds about next-generation cancer treatment

ANSTO CE Dr Adi Paterson with WSLHD strategic business development & commercial services director Leena Singh, chief executive Danny O’Connor and Crown Princess Mary Centre clinician Prof Verity Ahern. Front: Italy’s National Centre of Oncology director Dr Sandro Rossi.

A National Particle Therapy and Research Centre would provide all Australians with access to the latest cancer treatments, delivering proton therapy and cutting-edge carbon therapy, which is being used around the world to improve outcomes for patients with previously untreatable cancers.

With carbon therapy, patients require fewer treatments, experience fewer side effects and achieve better outcomes compared to current treatment options – it is an exciting development in the particle therapy offering.

On May 17, leaders from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), experts from Italy and clinicians from NSW met at the Westmead Institute of Medical Research to discuss opportunities for Australia.

This discussion comes as the Federal Government announced a $68 million budget contribution to establish a proton therapy centre in Adelaide – an important first-step in Australia to establishing a capability to deliver particle therapies to treat cancers in Australia.

ANSTO CEO Dr Adi Paterson said discussions, such as a Senate Select Committee into low survival rate cancers, and the conversation on May 17 around carbon ion therapy and other particle therapies offered an opportunity to make a significant leap forward for Australian patients with cancer, who right now, have few options.

“Carbon ion therapy is a game-changer, it has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes and take Australia into the community of nations adopting this advanced approach,” he said.

“It is essentially a process where a high-energy particle beam delivered from high-tech accelerators can precisely target a tumour, perfectly matching its shape and size.

“Carbon ions accelerated to 75 per cent the speed of light are directed down a beamline with sub millimetre accuracy into the tumour, to destroy the cells with near-perfect precision.

“Carbon ion therapy offers the potential to treat disease three times more effectively, in fewer treatment sessions and with little damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

“Particle therapies like carbon ion therapy could be a silver bullet, improving patient outcomes, and their quality of life both during the treatment and after.

“Today we had an opportunity to meet with leading international and local experts, to discuss how Australia can respond to, and utilise, this leading-edge technology to address difficult-to-treat cancers.”

Dr. Sandro Rossi is in Australia from the National Centre of Oncological Hadrontherapy in Italy – a centre focused on the treatment of radio-resistant or inoperable tumours and broader research.

“Our facility is one of a small number globally that is focused on particle therapy, providing new treatment to patients for cancer, which is the leading cause of death globally,” he said.

“Patients who receive particle therapy treatments are often at a point of little hope; [they] have been told surgery isn’t an option or conventional radiation therapy has been unsuccessful.

“If Australia were to establish a national centre for particle therapy, it would join this small community of leading laboratories.

“It would not only be about offering innovative and potentially life-saving treatment for patients, but cutting-edge research to, for example, understand more about the ways radiation interacts with living tissues.”

ANSTO’s Dr Richard Garrett said the recently announced proton treatment centre in Adelaide represented an important first-step in developing this treatment protocol in Australia.

“What we see as the ideal model is a National Carbon Cancer Therapy and Research Centre for both life-changing patient treatment options and research, supported by state-based proton facilities,” he said.

“Particle therapy treatment would have the potential to help thousands of Australians, and we are thrilled to be part of the continuing discussion of how we can work towards this game-changing national network.

“We are already working on the business case, and will be working with the Federal and State Governments to roll out this innovative treatment and research approach.”

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