Three scientists honored with the Christoph Schmelzer Award 2017
This year’s Christoph Schmelzer Award has been granted to three young scientists. Lennart Volz from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Dr. Johannes Petzoldt from the IBA Group in Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), and Dr. Kristjan Anderle from the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt were presented with the award on November 16 at the GSI campus in Darmstadt. The Association for the Promotion of Tumor Therapy with Heavy Ions presents this award annually in recognition of outstanding master’s and doctoral theses in the field of tumor therapy with heavy ions.
Helmut Zeitträger, a former Administrative Director of GSI, gave a welcoming address commemorating the association’s 20th anniversary. The participants had previously been greeted by the chairman of the association, Dr. Dieter Schardt. A talk celebrating the anniversary, titled “Particle Therapy: from a Niche Existence to a Clinical Routine?”, was delivered by Prof. Eugen B. Hug, Chief Medical Officer and Managing Director of MedAustron GmbH.
In his master’s thesis at Heidelberg University, Lennart Volz addressed the feasibility of using ion beams for the imaging of patients. In this process, ion beams with low intensity but high energy are used to penetrate the patient’s body in order to assess the retardant behavior of various tissue types at diverse locations in the bodies of individual patients. If the individual behavior of these tissue types is known, the precision of the subsequent ion beam therapy can be improved. Volz developed a formal process for describing the trajectory of ions in matter, and in an experiment he was able to demonstrate that helium ions would be very suitable for this imaging technique.
Dr. Johannes Petzoldt’s dissertation at TU Dresden addresses the measurement of the ion beam during tumor treatment. A new procedure called “prompt gamma timing” could be used for this purpose. In this procedure, the gamma radiation generated by nuclear reactions of the ions used for tumor treatment are evaluated along their course toward the target volume. Petzoldt systematically used this procedure to find the detector material that is best suited for measuring the gamma radiation in this type of treatment. He also investigated the degree to which fluctuations of the parameters of the treatment beam influence the measurement procedure, as well as the methods for determining these fluctuations. Finally, he demonstrated the clinical feasibility of prompt gamma timing by creating a prototype of a measurement setup.
In his dissertation at TU Darmstadt, Dr. Kristjan Anderle improved the frequently used TRiP software for planning treatments with ion beams. The software is now able to quickly and efficiently carry out computations in complex cases involving large tumors or several tumors and numerous high-risk organs. He also conducted studies of radiation therapy planning for cases of lung tumors. Thanks to the tremendous technical progress in the fields of radiation technology and imaging in conventional radiation technology with photons, it is now possible to effectively irradiate small lung tumors at high doses in a few sessions. However, in the case of larger tumors and more complex situations with nearby high-risk organs, effective irradiation is often not possible because it puts too much strain on the healthy surrounding tissue. Anderle was able to demonstrate that irradiation with ions could also be used in a large proportion of these cases and that significantly more patients could thus be treated effectively.
The prize money amounts to €750 for the master’s thesis and €1,500 for each of the doctoral dissertations. The awards, which were presented this year for the 19th time, are named after Professor Christoph Schmelzer, the co-founder and first Scientific Director of GSI. The GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, where heavy ion therapy was developed in Germany to the clinical use stage in the 1990s, traditionally offers an appropriate setting for the annual presentation ceremony.
The Association for the Promotion of Tumor Therapy supports activities conducted within the research project Tumor Therapy with Heavy Ions at GSI, with the goal of improving tumor treatment by refining the system and making it available for general use in patient care. During a pilot project conducted at the accelerator facility at GSI from 1997 to 2008, more than 400 patients with tumors in the head and neck were treated with ion beams. The cure rate of this method has been more than 90 percent in some categories, and the side effects are very slight. At the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center (HIT), patients have routinely been treated with heavy ions since 2009. Germany’s second major therapy facility using 12C ions and protons, the Marburger Ionenstrahl-Therapiezentrum (MIT), was opened in Marburg in 2015.