First Heavy Ion Therapy Masterclass School held online


Recently, the first international Heavy Ion Therapy Masterclass (HITM) school was held online for the duration of a full week. The school focused on treatment planning in heavy ion therapy, but also covered the entire path to deliver the beam to the tumor. It was organized within the framework of the EU-funded HITRIplus (Heavy Ion Therapy Research Integration) project, a large consortium where GSI leads the Transnational Access and participates in Joint Research Activities. This first course of HITRIplus, coordinated by GSI with strong support of the HITRIplus partners, was attended by more than thousand participants, ranging from undergrad students up to early stage researchers.

The participants of the HITM school were presented with a multidisciplinary approach which started from basic concepts, included state-of-the-art practices and methods, and involved discussions of open points and needed research, as well as future plans for upcoming upgrades and developments. While overview lectures, partly delivered by GSI experts, provided the necessary broad panorama, specialized presentations and hands-on sessions focused on the treatment planning details. These were based on the matRad open-source professional toolkit, developed by the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg specifically for training and research.

Expert matRad tutors from DKFZ and LMU guided participants from software installation to the execution of involved treatment planning cases, demonstrating the benefits, but also the challenges of heavy-ion therapy compared to different treatment modalities. Approx. 200 participants delivered their hands-on results, which was awarded with a certificate of attendance.

The course used informative videos of the European heavy-ion therapy centers and research infrastructures, including GSI/FAIR, included real-time virtual visits to these labs and offered numerous opportunities for interaction with their experts. GSI experts also participated in dedicated sessions, where students presented their results and research projects as well as in the evening social events providing information on future career paths.

The online mode made the school easily accessible worldwide: Over thousand participants, almost equally distributed between European and non-European countries, ranging from undergraduate students to practitioners, followed all or parts of the program. These unprecedented high numbers, as well as the received comments, show an increasing interest in heavy-ion therapy, the technology introduced in Europe by GSI.

Within the HITRIplus project, promising early stage researchers will be candidates to be further supported by the upcoming HITRIplus schools on clinical and medical aspects, as well as by HITRIplus internships. Thus, they can optimally access the existing European heavy-ion therapy centers and research facilities, among which GSI/FAIR, contributing to relevant research projects, upgrades and future developments.

The format of the HITM school was inspired by the Particle Therapy MasterClasses (PTMC), a project also coordinated by GSI, that in 2021 attracted more than 1500 high-school students in 20 countries and 37 institutes. Several of the HITM school participants were eager to participate in future PTMC projects as tutors and moderators further motivating the younger generations.

The HITRIplus project, that has received funds from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 101008548, motivated by the response and success of this first course is preparing already the next courses based on the uplifting received feedback of numerous grateful participants. (CP)

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