Cancer Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf

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

In order to press ahead in the battle against cancer, various disciplines have to pool their efforts. To this end, HZDR has joined forces with Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital Dresden and the Medical Faculty at TU Dresden to create the OncoRay Center. All the staff at the Institute for Radiooncology – OncoRay are assigned to different research groups. The group addressing “In-vivo dosimetry for new types of radiation” is composed completely of HZDR scientists, and the group leaders Professor Anna Dubrovska and Dr Christian Richter are also members of HZDR staff.

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 calculating exactly how deep the protons – whether accelerated conventionally or by laser – need to penetrate and how to take precise measurements during therapy using novel procedures.

Radioactivity in diagnostics and therapy

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.

Other research collaborations

Since 2015, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) has been collaborating with Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital Dresden, the Medical Faculty of TU Dresden and HZDR to build the Dresden site of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT). In addition, the three Dresden institutions cooperate with university partners and the DKFZ in the context of the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research.