Physics and medicine work together

Particle physicists and medical scientists are to combine efforts to develop early detection techniques and advanced treatments for cancer as spin-offs from research into the origins and make-up of the universe.

The CERN European nuclear research organisation, home to the world's largest particle collider, the LHC, said the programme would explore new ways of fighting cancer by ensuring doctors and physicists work together rather than in isolation.

Early detection

The programme will focus on high-resolution imaging that can spot tumours in their early stages, and the overall effects on the human body of particle therapy for cancer, and other topics, CERN said in a statement.

Dubbed "Physics for Health in Europe," the programme will ensure researchers from all over the continent meet frequently to exchange ideas and discoveries that could provide avenues to new treatments or to improving existing ones.

Another aim will be to create a European centre to supply hospitals and research centres with innovative radio-isotopes. A CERN facility to provide particle beams to outside users for use in radiobiology and detector development is also envisaged.

The plan emerged this year from a workshop which brought 400 physicists, biologists and medical doctors to Geneva to review their areas of research.

Work overlap

"Often medical doctors and physicists may not know which aspects of their work will be relevant to one another," Oxford University cancer specialist Gillies McKenna said in the CERN statement, explaining the point of the programme.

CERN is best-known for its project to establish what happened after the Big Bang that created the cosmos some 13 billion years ago.

CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, has an annual budget of 10 billion Swiss francs ($8.7 billion) which includes the cost of running the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest scientific machine deep underground at the foot of the Jura mountains.

Sceptics have argued that the money should be put to what they say would be more practical uses, but the body's member governments vote regularly to maintain its financing despite being under pressure for spending cuts of their own. - (Robert Evans/Reuters Health, June 2010)

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