ICTR-PHE 2016: the winning alliance

Where do physicists, experts in particle accelerators, engineers and computer scientists brainstorm with medical doctors, biologists, radiochemists and specialists in nuclear medicine? In one of the numerous sessions of ICTR-PHE. The 3rd biennial conference, held in Geneva from 15 to 19 February, was again a unique place where multidisciplinary scientists met to share knowledge and bridge gaps between the various disciplines involved in translational research, to boost advances in biophysics and to enhance the quality of transfer into clinical practice. As the motto of the conference says, the primary scope of the event is to "go from lab to bed" as efficiently as possible.

The conference went into full swing immediately after the opening addresses, with sessions on radiobiology and nuclear medicine. Michael Lassmann, of the University of Wurzburg (Germany), gave an overview of "theranostics", a word coined in 2005 to describe the use of imaging for therapy planning in radiation oncology. Today, it is used in nuclear medicine to refer to the use of short-lived tracers for predicting the absorbed doses in molecular radiotherapy and, therefore, helping to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a treatment. New radiopharmaceuticals are becoming increasingly available for imaging and molecular radiotherapy, but the challenge of establishing reliable dose-response relationships remains.

In the radiobiology session, Michael Story, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, discussed novel potential biomarkers, while Ahmed Mansoor, of the US National Cancer Institute, confirmed the importance of immunology in radiation biology; new clinical trials have recently shown that when these are combined, it is possible to obtain a higher survival rate with respect to just immunotherapy.

Detectors and imaging are key factors in the fight against cancer. Thomas Bortfeld, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, discussed an issue that is critical for hadron-therapy effectiveness: beam spatial control. The biggest advantage of particle beam therapy, which is the finite range of the beam, can be a double-edged sword because the over- or under-shoot of the beam requires extra margins, but this can compromise the dose distribution and the efficacy of the therapy. That is why substantial effort is being put into developing imaging techniques for beam-range assessment. A number of possibilities are being studied, but according to Bortfeld, prompt gamma imaging appears to be the most promising, currently. It is based on the detection of secondary gamma radiation emitted from nuclear reactions of protons with tissue. It would allow detecting the position of the beam in the body of the patient with an accuracy of about 1 mm, in real time, during treatment. With such precision, the range margins could be reduced, resulting in significant improvements in treatment quality. The development and clinical use of a prompt gamma camera was presented in detail by Christian Richter of Oncoray, Dresden.

Fast-emerging concept

Radiomics is a term that refers to the extraction and analysis of large amounts of advanced quantitative-imaging features (multimodality imaging) to effectively define tumour phenotypes. At the conference it appeared clear that this is a fast-emerging concept, because many speakers, covering topics as broad as liquid-biopsy analysis and personalised medicine, referred to this concept. In particular, Klaus Maier-Hein, of the University of Heidelberg, showed a novel method to anticipate the development and progression of tumours – still a work in progress but already very promising. Big data used in the framework of the fight against cancer was, for the first time, given prominence at this 3rd edition of the conference. Philippe Lambin, of the University Medical Centre of Maastricht, presented the idea of "rapid learning" – that is, the use of data routinely generated through patient care and clinical research that feed an ever-growing database. Thanks to this database, Lambin hopes to be able to develop mathematical models – following the example of weather models – capable of "predicting the future". Indeed, as Klaus Maier-Hein showed earlier, simulation models really are a promising way to greatly improve cancer treatment and research. But to achieve this, computing scientists need huge amounts of data – data they are eager to collect worldwide through programmes such as the Euregional Computer Assisted Theragnostics project (EuroCAT).

In his lecture supported by the European Society for Therapeutic Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO), Eric Deutsch, of the Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus Grand Paris, gave an overview of some new concepts leading to a new understanding of the biological response to radiotherapy.

Personalised medicine is the "holy grail" of today’s doctors. In his GHF award lecture, Søren Bentzen, of the University of Maryland, discussed the need to combine precise medicine with multimodality treatment (surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, etc) to offer tailored therapy to the patient. The award is testimony to Bentzen’s lifelong dedication to this field and to his commitment to providing the best possible outcome for patients.

The conference was also an opportunity for the 440 participants to gain an exhaustive overview of the current hadrontherapy centres across the world. The US situation was presented by James Cox, of the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas. In the US, there are 17 particle facilities delivering protons, while there are none to perform carbon-ion treatment yet. Clinical trials, which follow precise protocols, are necessary to demonstrate that proton therapy can be a more effective treatment than photons in terms of tumour control, patient survival and treatment toxicity. According to Cox, clinical trials for particle therapy cannot be readily conducted in the US, due to a number of structural biases such as cost (influencing the age and the social status of the patients); subjectivity in scoring acute and subacute effects; patient acceptance; and the expertise of the investigators. Moreover, most of the studies do not take into account late effects, which, on the contrary, are very important in assessing treatment toxicity.

Unfortunately, the situations for cancer care in other parts of the world is not all positive. Norman Coleman, senior scientific adviser to the International Cancer Expert Corps (ICEC) and a member of the US National Cancer Institute, highlighted that today, 30 African and Asian countries still do not have access to interventions to prevent and treat cancer and its symptoms, and there is still a shortfall of 5000 radiotherapy machines in the developing world. The mission of the ICEC is to implement a global force to address this problem through a mentoring network of cancer professionals who work with local and regional in-country groups to develop and sustain expertise for better cancer care.

In addition to senior and prestigious speakers, ICTR-PHE also featured the work of younger researchers. More than 100 presented their latest research in posters that arrived carefully rolled up in their bags. Pinned one-by-one on the main conference hall panels, the posters raised a great deal of interest and triggered many discussions throughout the week.

The presentation of the six winning posters on the last afternoon was a highlight of the conference. The special session, presented by the conference chairs, CERN’s Manjit Dosanjh and Jacques Bernier of Clinique de Genolier, awarded Emanuele Scifoni (GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, Darmstadt, Germany); Mattia Donzelli (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility of Grenoble, France); Grischa Klimpki (Paul Scherrer Institute, Switerland); Karol Brzezinski (Universitat de València, Spain, and University of Groningen, the Netherlands); Pankaj Chaudhary (University of Belfast, UK); and Brent Huisman (Université de Lyon, France).

In line with its goal of merging different approaches and disciplines, the public talk proposed by ICTR-PHE introduced a novel methodology that uses sound to improve our knowledge and understanding of human motor control. Domenico Vicinanza, of the Department of Computing and Technology, Anglia Ruskin University and GÉANT, Cambridge, UK, and Genevieve Williams, of the Department of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, presented their novel studies on sonification, and showed the incredibly strong link that exists between music and the life sciences: both are dependent on the idea of cycles, periodicity, fluctuations, transitions and, in a fascinating sense, harmony.

Trigger and data-acquisition experts gather at ISOTDAQ 2016

Fifty-two MSc and PhD students from 21 nations, selected from almost 80 applications, attended ISOTDAQ 2016, the 7th International School of Trigger and Data Acquisition, held at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

As in previous editions of the school, a full programme consisting of equal time for lectures and hands-on exercises aimed at giving the students an introduction to the many concepts and technologies used in the field. A total of 26 lecturers and tutors from CERN, worldwide research institutes and industry came to the school to share their knowledge, not only during the lectures and laboratory exercises but also in many face-to-face discussions during the coffee and lunch breaks.

The lectures covered both enabling technologies such as FPGAs, A/D converters, networks and bus systems, and the design of software and overviews of selected TDAQ systems from large and small experiments and related fields, such as medical imaging.

In the lab exercises, the students had the opportunity to operate the hardware introduced to them in the lectures, and to work under the supervision of an experienced tutor on small projects. To make the hands-on practice possible, 500 kg of electronics modules and computers, prepared for the 13 exercises, were shipped from CERN to the Weizmann Institute.

During the school, the students also had an opportunity to visit the production facility for a large fraction of the existing Atlas TGC detectors and the future sTGC detectors for the ATLAS Phase 1 upgrade. This provided them with an impression of the research activities and facilities available at the Weizmann Physics Department.

Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics confirm their success

More than 1200 young women from colleges across the US came together in January to learn about careers, graduate school and research opportunities in a range of fields associated with physics. The participants attended one of nine regional events, held on 15–17 January, under the aegis of the American Physical Society and dubbed the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP).

The first CUWiP conference was held in 2006 at the University of Southern California. Interest in the event took root and it has grown every year since. The 2016 CUWiP events were held at Black Hills State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, ODU/Jefferson Lab, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, University of California (San Diego), University of Texas (San Antonio) and Weslyan University.

In the US mid-Atlantic region, Old Dominion University (Norfolk) and the Department of Energy’s Jefferson Lab (Newport News, Virginia) co-hosted one of the geographically separated conferences. Nearly 140 women and four men attended the ODU/Jefferson Lab conference, which included workshops, panel discussions, lectures, a student poster session, graduate school and careers fair, and Jefferson Lab tour.

"The value of the conference is in showing undergraduate women that in spite of classroom numbers, they are not alone, and that there are many role models for them," commented Gail Dodge, a professor of physics at ODU and co-chair for the joint ODU/JLab conference. "They particularly appreciated career advice, both from the panel discussions and the graduate school and careers fair. We want these women to know they have many options and that there are many ways to be a physicist."

According to Latifa Elouadrhiri, Jefferson Lab staff scientist and ODU/Jefferson Lab co-chair, the conference programme was designed with the goal of giving the students an opportunity to experience the dynamics of a professional physics conference. It also provided them with the opportunity to meet and network with other women in physics at many different levels – peers, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, researchers and leaders of technical projects and institutions – both in academia and industry. Through the graduate school and careers fair, with 32 institutions and employers represented, the students became more aware of the wide variety of opportunities available to them.

"It was very exciting to be in a room with so many women physicists, seeing the lively dialogue between the students and senior women as well as the interactions between the students, discussing physics questions and career opportunities," Elouadrhiri said. "Jefferson Lab and ODU are committed to increasing the representation of women in physics. We hope that hosting this conference has a positive impact on the young women who attended and helps them in making informed decisions about their future."

• For further information, see https://www.aps.org/programs/women/workshops/cuwip.cfm.

Events calendar (click to enlarge)

Events calendar