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Hadron therapy to get heavier in Southeast Europe

20 September 2019
Montenegro prime minister Duško Marković marks the start of the SEEIIST design phase on 18 September.

A state-of-the-art facility for hadron therapy in Southeast Europe has moved from its conceptual to design phase, following financial support from the European Commission. At a kick-off meeting held on Wednesday 18 September in Budva, Montenegro, more than 120 people met to discuss the future South East European International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (SEEIIST) – a facility for tumour therapy and biomedical research that follows the founding principles of CERN.

“This is a region that has no dilemma regarding its European affiliation, and which, I believe, will be part of a joint European competition for technological progress. Therefore, the International Institute for Sustainable Technologies is an urgent need of our region,” said Montenegro prime minister Duško Marković during the opening address. “I am confident that the political support for this project is obvious and indisputable. The memorandum of understanding was signed by six prime ministers in July this year in Poznan. I believe that other countries in the region will formally join the initiative.”

The idea for SEEIIST germinated three years ago at a meeting of trustees of the World Academy of Art and Science in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It is the brainchild of former CERN Director-General Herwig Schopper, and has benefitted from a political push from Montenegro minister of science Sanja Damjanović, who is also a physicist who works at CERN and GSI-FAIR in Darmstadt, Germany. SEEIIST aims to create a platform for internationally competitive research in the spirit of the CERN model “science for peace”, stimulating the education of young scientists, building scientific capacity and fostering greater cooperation and mobility in the region.

SEEIIST event

In January 2018, at a forum at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy held under the auspices of UNESCO, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Physical Society, two possibilities for a large international institute were presented: a synchrotron X-ray facility and a hadron-therapy centre. Soon afterwards, the 10 participating parties of SEEIIST’s newly formed intergovernmental steering committee chose the latter.

Europe has played a major role in the development of hadron therapy, with numerous centres currently offering proton therapy and four facilities offering proton and more advanced carbon-ion treatment. But currently no such facility exists in Southeast Europe despite a growing number of tumours being diagnosed there. SEEIIST will follow the  idea of the “PIMMS” accelerator design started at CERN two decades ago, profiting from the experience at the dual proton–ion centres CNAO in Italy and MedAustron in Austria, and also centres at GSI and in Heidelberg. It will be a unique facility that splits its beam time 50:50 between treating patients and performing research with a wide range of different ions for radiobiology, imaging and treatment planning. The latter will include studies into the feasibility of heavier ions such as oxygen, making SEEIIST distinct in this rapidly growing field.

The next steps are to prepare a definite technical design for the facility, to propose a structure and business plan and to define the conditions for the site selection. To carry out these tasks, several working groups are being established in close collaboration with CERN and GSI-FAIR. “This great event was a culmination of the continuous efforts invested since 2017 into the project,” says Damjanović. “If all goes well, construction is expected to start in 2023, with first patient treatment in 2028.”

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