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Ultrafast cellular irradiation studies towards novel radiotherapy

PhD project title

Ultrafast cellular irradiation studies towards novel radiotherapy

Outline description, including interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international dimensions (300 words max)

Cancer radiotherapy aims at destroying cancerous cells in the body while minimizing radiation damage to the healthy cells surrounding the tumour.  Protons (and heavier ions), compared to x-rays, can be more effective in sparing healthy cells due to their inherent dose deposition properties in matter.  However, even exposure to moderate radiation doses is a concern as it can lead to later secondary tumours or other health complications. Recent studies indicate that the rate at which the dose is deposited is also a factor that can reduce unwanted damage to healthy cells, with better cell sparing reported for dose rates up to 100 Gy/s (FLASH radiotherapy)

A radically novel means of producing beams of particles with intrinsically ultrashort duration is via acceleration techniques employing high power lasers. Laser-driven beams have been used in pioneering radiobiology experiments at unprecedented dose rates of order 109 Gy/s (10 orders of magnitude higher than in conventional radiotherapy). While the efficiency in cell killing does not show a clear dependence on dose rate, initial studies of sub-lethal effects after exposure to low dose radiation suggest a better cell recovery when the dose is delivered in ultrashort proton bursts.

Based on these initial indications, the PhD projects aims to develop an experimental platform for the systematic exploration of sublethal damage recovery from exposure to ultrahigh dose rates ion beams. Following the development of a suitable irradiation system, the studies will focus on markers of cellular stress (e.g. premature senescence and chromosome aberration), and perform a comparative study against conventional ion irradiation. This is an intrinsically interdisciplinary project, which applies complementary skills available in CPP and CCRCB, augmented by close collaborations with key non-HEI partners.



Key words/descriptors



Particle acceleration, laser-matter interaction, radiobiology, cancer therapy

Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

The use of short burst of radiation for treating cancer is at the basis of a novel radiotherapy approach which promises to reduce the often severe side effects currently associate to cancer radiotherapy, without affecting the effectiveness of the treatment. The project, by taking advantage of some unique properties of laser-driven ion sources, aims to establish a biological basis for dose rate effects at sublethal doses, with the potential to lead to advanced clinical approaches. The the proposed research therefore fits naturally within the Life Science theme of the CITI-GENS project.

Supervisor Information



First Supervisor:      Prof. Marco Borghesi                                                          School: Mathematics and Physics

Second Supervisor:    Prof. Kevin Prise                                                               School: Medicine and Biology

Third Supervisor:                                                                                                   Company:

What costs are associated with the project and how will they be funded?


NB: The COFUND research grant supports the financing of student fees and the salary of the ‘Fellows.’ Additional overheads (e.g. specialist training, equipment) are not provided for

There will be consumable and travel costs, which will be covered by research grants. We estimated that £15-20K will be needed in terms of consumables and £10-15K in travel and subsistence. We are currently well funded in this area of research (mostly from EPSRC) until 2022, and we assume that new grants will be applied for in due course as the current research grants come to an end.

Name of non-HEI partner(s)

ELI Beamlines, Institute of Physics ASCR (Czech Republic)

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:



The partner will provide:

  • Dedicated access to unique facilities, namely the ELIMAIA ion beamline, which will facilitate advanced radiobiology experiments
  • Co-supervision to the project, with specialized expertise in beam delivery and dosimetry
  • Consumables for local research
  • Structured training at ELI Beamlines, including participation to ELI Summer School

Staff secondment for providing training at QUB