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2023. 03. 30 -

Next generation lasers to fight cancer

On 23 March, the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) workshop took place at Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC), bringing together laser technology experts from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Lithuania and France. ELI is an international laboratory system using high-power lasers. Their design and development is supported by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).

These lasers are expected to be useful in a wide range of fields - research, industry and medicine. The latter was the focus of the workshop in Vilnius, which was followed by a visit to the Vilius University Hospital Santaros Klinikos and the National Cancer Institute to discuss the benefits of this technology in preventing cancer.

"ELI is powerful ultrashort pulsed laser that produce high radiation intensities. They allow the study of new phenomena using accelerated electrons and protons," says Dr. Vidmantas Tomkus, a researcher in the FTMC's Department of Laser Technologies and one of the event participants.

The particles accelerated by the powerful laser can then be used for diagnostics, materials science and radiotherapy, he said. One area is new technologies for cancer treatment. "So this conference was more about new research to turn it into reality and apply it to medicine," the scientist says.
 
 
(Dr. Vidmantas Tomkus. Photo from personal archive)
 
Lithuania does not yet have such a laser (ELI infrastructures are in place in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania), and there are ongoing discussions on the use of ELI in Lithuania, so the event at FTMC was aimed at encouraging scientists, medics and innovators to participate in international experiments and use European scientific infrastructure.

By the way, some of ELI laser components are made in Lithuania. The biggest suppliers of components are the Lithuanian companies Light Conversion and Ekspla.

How could ELI specifically contribute to the fight against cancer? According to the speaker, various studies on the acceleration of electric particles and the dose of ionising radiation are currently being carried out around the world, mainly on cells tissues and animals such as mice.

"ELI produces two important effects. One is to accelerate the electron to 100-200 MeV VHEE (Very High Energy Electrons) and concentrate it more precisely in the smaller area needed, which can be on the order of a few hundred microns (thousandths of a millimetre) at a depth of several centimetres. This way, sensitive oncological foci such as brain cancer or certain foci in childhood cancer can be treated with less impact on surrounding healthy tissue.
 
And the other benefit is called Flash. Studies have shown that if a dose of ionising radiation is delivered to a cancer site very quickly, within a fraction of a second, it has less effect on nearby healthy tissue. In this case, the particles are accelerated with the laser and the process is controlled - the beam can be precisely directed and focused," explains Tomkus.
 
 
(ELI Beamlines - International Laser Research Centre in the Czech Republic. Photo: Vichmi / Wikipedia.org)
 
The scientist himself gave a presentation at the conference on how to control the energy of the light and the flow of the accelerated particles: "All these processes take place in a plasma environment - that is, in an ionised gas made up of positive ions and free electrons. We need the laser beam through the plasma to create a plasma wave that 'grabs' and accelerates the electrons.

We change the concentration and shape of that plasma - and thus control the charge, the spread and the energy of the beam of electrons accelerated by the laser in the plasma."

Written by Simonas Bendžius
 
(Top right: Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) laser. Photo: ELI-ALPS Laser Institute in Hungary / eli-alps.hu)
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