From High-Energy Physics to Healthcare: Using Particle Beams to Treat Cancer

   Markus Hager, who you can meet at Second Collisions for his talk “From High-Energy Physics to Healthcare: Using Particle Beams to Treat Cancer“ is a CERN Alumn that went on to apply what he had learned at CERN to the field of   medicine.

 Markus  recognises the impact that CERN has had on his career progression: ‘My time at CERN opened the doors to what I’m doing today. It gave me a good understanding of particle accelerators and the challenges of producing       beams with very well-defined characteristics. This knowledge today helps me to understand the needs of our customers and of facilities that are operating accelerators for medical purposes.’

 “MedAustron build an accelerator for cancer treatment in cooperation with CERN. I developed the software that calculates the control information for the accelerator, e.g. the RF settings, the magnet settings etc. The challenge of setting up a medical accelerator is the wide range of beams that need to be supported (particle type, energy, extraction time, beam size).”

The work carried out by Markus since leaving CERN is revolutionising cancer treatment: ‘I’m working for Cosylab where I define, together with our project teams and customers, software solutions for innovative radiotherapy systems. Radiation therapy and the younger particle therapy are already established methods for cancer treatment. The modalities, however, have not reached their full potential yet. This is where Cosylab and my work comes into the picture. At Cosylab we are working together with research institutes, startups and established vendors on new solutions for radiation therapy and image guidance. The new solutions will improve treatments and lower the costs. This will allow to treat cancers that are not treatable with other methods, to treat patients individually and to achieve better treatment outcomes. In general, it will allow more patients to be treated with high-quality radiation therapy.‘  

To understand better the principles behind his work, Markus explains that his CERN experience is inherently linked to his current MedTech position: ‘Coming from the side of the accelerator and the accelerator control system, I’ve always found it fascinating how the beam of the accelerator is used for medical purposes. Strikingly to me, the accelerator with all it’s complexity and the know-how required to build, commission and operate it is just a means to and end in particle therapy. I found this so interesting that I went back to university and completed a dedicated Master’s program covering the different aspects of radiation therapy. To me, the multitude of knowledge from different disciplines required in radiation therapy is what makes this field so interesting. For one there are many challenges for physicists and engineers that require dedicated solutions, for example positioning the patient correctly with the help of imaging and robotic solutions, and creating the required dose distribution from the beam produced by the accelerator. In addition, radiation therapy requires specialized knowledge in medicine and biology. The physical interactions of the beam with tissue trigger biological reactions of cells, organs and the entire body and its immune system. To this day, new insights into the body’s reaction to radiation show new ways of using radiation for better treatments. Different types of tissue and tumor tissue react differently to different types of radiation. Identifying the right treatment approach and preparing a treatment such that the tumor is irradiated and killed with little or no side effects is a challenge for oncologists and medical physicists.’

To find out more, make sure to register for Second Collisions to hear Markus’s presentation: ‘In my talk I would like to outline some aspects of radiation therapy that I find important and interesting. With this I hope I can provide an insight into the long way from a particle beam to a cancer treatment.’

Second Collisions will begin on the 1st of October, enabling you to meet Markus along with our other inspiring speakers while coming back to CERN through our specially designed platform. “I see several reasons for attending the event. Mainly a general interest in the different fields of work that former CERN employs went into and the topics they are working on. And of course the event is a networking opportunity for business topics and career.  I’d be happy to explain what Cosylab does, the type of projects we can support and the career opportunities that Cosylab offers.”


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