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Christoph Schmelzer Award 2016 goes to three young female scientists

Photo: G. Otto/GSI Helmholtzzentrum

The awarding of the Christoph-Schmelzer-Prize



This year, the Christoph Schmelzer Award was presented to three young female scientists. Bianca Berndt of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Dr. Marta Rovituso of the research institute TIFPA (Trento/Italy), and Dr. Maria Saager of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg accepted the award on November 24 at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung. Each year, the Verein zur Förderung der Tumortherapie mit schweren Ionen e.V. (Association for the Promotion of Tumor Therapy with Heavy Ions) presents the award in recognition of outstanding work toward the master’s or doctoral degrees in the field of tumor therapy with ion beams.

The opening speeches were given by Professor Gerhard Kraft, the initiator of cancer therapy with ion beams and founder of the biophysics research department at GSI, and Professor Karlheinz Langanke, the Scientific Managing Director of GSI. Previously, Dr. Dieter Schardt, Chairman of the Assiciation, welcomed the participants. The keynote lecture was given by Professor Rita Engenhart-Cabillic of the Clinic for Radiotherapy and Radiation Oncology, University Clinic Giessen and Marburg.

For her master’s thesis at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (advisor: Professor Katia Parodi), Bianca Berndt analyzed the CT data of patients undergoing proton therapy. In the framework of her master’s thesis concerning “DECT Based Tissue Segmentation as Input to Monte Carlo Simulations for Proton Treatment Verification Using PET Imaging,” she used a special CT technique to analyze both the density and the elemental composition of tissue. The purpose of her work is to improve the accuracy of dosage verification in the patient by means of PET.

In her dissertation at TU Darmstadt (advisor: Professor Marco Durante), Dr. Marta Rovituso carried out studies regarding the possible use of helium ion beams in tumor therapy. In tumor therapy, 4He ion beams could represent a good extension of the treatment options between proton and carbon ions. With her dissertation “Fragmentation and Lateral Scattering of 120 and 200 MeV/u 4He Ions on Water Targets,” Marta Rovituso studied the physical properties of 4He ion beams in the therapeutically relevant range of 120 to 200 MeV/u. This filled the gap in the experimental measurements available in this energy range while also providing precise data for the benchmarking of Monte Carlo simulations.

In her dissertation at Heidelberg University (advisor: Professor Christian Karger), Dr. Maria Saager dealt with “Determining the Relative Biological Effectiveness of Carbon Ions in the Rat Spinal Cord” and contributed to a better understanding of the mode of action of heavy-ion therapy in normal tissue of the central nervous system (CNS) relative to photon irradiation. In carbon therapy, the central nervous system is one of the most critical organs at risk. For the safety of patients, it is crucially important to obtain a precise calculation of relative biological effectiveness (RBE) on basis of the local effect model. Dr. Saager’s study established an extensive data pool that can be used to validate the RBE models used in planning irradiation treatments. In addition, she studied the mitigating effect of an ACE inhibitor for protecting healthy CNS tissue.

The award comes with a purse of 750 euros for the master’s thesis and 1,500 euros each for the dissertations. The Christoph Schmelzer Award, which is being presented this year for the 18th time, is named after the co-founder and first Scientific Managing Director of GSI. During the 1990s at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH, heavy-ion therapy was developed to a level appropriate for clinical use. GSI has traditionally been a fitting venue for the annual award ceremony.

In conjunction with the research project “Tumor Therapy with Heavy Ions” at GSI, the Association for the Promotion of Tumor Therapy promotes activities aimed at developing the therapeutic system further in order to improve the treatment of tumors and make that treatment available for general patient care. From 1997 to 2008, over 400 patients with tumors, generally head tumors, were treated with ion beams at GSI’s accelerator facility as part of a pilot project. The cure rates of this method are in some instances over 90 percent, and the side effects are very minor. Since 2009, patients have routinely been treated with heavy ions at the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center (HIT). On November 11, 2015, a second large treatment center began operating in Germany with the opening of the Marburg Ion-Beam Therapy Center, which also uses 12C ions and protons.

The awarding of the Christoph-Schmelzer-Prize
From left: Dr. Dieter Schardt, Chairman of the Verein zur Förderung der Tumortherapie mit schweren Ionen, Dr. Marta Rovituso, Bianca Berndt, Dr. Maria Saager und Professor Gerhard Kraft, the initiator of cancer therapy with ion beams and founder of the biophysics research department at GSI.
Photo: G. Otto/GSI Helmholtzzentrum