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11.11.2015 | Opening of the Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Center — cancer treatment using a process developed at GSI

Foto: A. Zschau, GSI Helmholtzzentrum

Treatment station at GSI.

Foto: Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg

Treatment station at the Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Center (MIT).


The Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Center was ceremonially opened on November 11, 2015. Treatment of the first patients at the center had started in October. Heavy ion therapy was developed at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt. The accelerator facility was successfully used for the treatment of tumor patients between 1997 and 2008. A new accelerator facility of this kind is now going into operation in Marburg. It is the second such facility in Germany that is attached to a clinic and is capable of treating large numbers of patients.

The MIT will offer an efficient form of cancer therapy, with minimal side effects, to as many as 750 patients per year. Following the example of the Heidelberg Ion Beam Therapy Center, the Marburg facility uses a process of irradiation with ions that is based on research and development work done by GSI, the Heidelberg University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), and the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf.

“We are delighted that the Marburg facility is now completed and that from now on more patients will be able to benefit from the extremely effective and gentle process of ion beam therapy we developed at GSI,” said Gerhard Kraft, the former head of the Biophysics department at GSI. “It’s an outstanding example of how basic research can benefit society and individuals thanks to successful technology transfer.” Karlheinz Langanke, the Scientific Director of GSI, said, “This is also a great personal success for Gerhard Kraft, the founder of ion therapy at GSI and a pioneer in Europe.”

The first promising biological experiments and technical developments related to an innovative technology for irradiating tumors with heavy ions were already being conducted at GSI during the 1980s. Biophysicists worked closely with accelerator physicists, technicians, and physicians to further develop the accelerator facility for cancer therapy. The same accelerator that was used for studying supernovae and neutron stars was to be applied to medical treatment for human beings. The first clinical study was conducted jointly with the Heidelberg University Hospital, the DKFZ, and the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf from 1997 to 2008. A total of 444 patients, most of whom suffered from basal skull tumors, were treated using beams of carbon ions from the GSI accelerator facility — with great success.

This process is especially effective and gentle, because the ion beams penetrate into the body and have a particularly strong effect in the tumor tissue, where they are absorbed. In addition, the ion beams’ effect can be directed with millimeter precision to individual points within the malignant tumor by means of the raster scan process developed at GSI, so that the healthy surrounding tissue is spared.

The experience gained from the GSI pilot project flowed directly into the design of an accelerator facility that is intended specifically for therapeutic use and designed to make routine clinical procedures possible. The Heidelberg Ion Beam Therapy Center HIT was then constructed on this basis. A significantly smaller accelerator facility was developed by GSI for this center. The Marburg facility has also been constructed according to this model.

Treatment station at GSI.
Treatment station at the Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Center (MIT).
A patient being treated at the treatment station at GSI.
The treatment station at the Marburg Ion Beam Therapy Center (MIT).
Foto: A. Zschau, GSI Helmholtzzentrum
Foto: Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg