...and this is why fundamental research matters!
Technology from the quest to find the 'God particle' will soon be used to treat cancer patients after a British company acquired the first spin-off firm from the Large Hadron Collider.
The collaboration has slashed the cost of proton beam therapy, a type of cancer treatment that fires high-precision beams of particles at tumours, minimising damage to surrounding body tissue.
While the Large Hadron Collider is the world's biggest physics experiment, its technological advances have made it possible to shrink the size of equipment needed to accelerate protons to
the speeds needed for blasting tumours.
AIM-listed Advanced Oncotherapy has been working with a spin-off from CERN, the group behind the Large Hadron Collider, to make the technology suitable for hospitals, and on Wednesday fully acquired the technology start-up.
The advance will allow thousands more cancer patients every year to benefit from proton beam therapy, which causes much less damage to healthy tissue than the standard radiation treatments using X-rays and other types of particle beams. Proton beam therapy is especially useful when tumours are in or near vital organs.
Six UK hospitals have already put in orders for the cancer-treating devices, and the first machines will be ready to use in 2016. Currently only one centre offers the cutting-edge treatment in Britain, as the cost of existing proton beam therapy machines is so high. Two US hospitals have also agreed to buy the machine.
Advanced Oncotherapy's device, known as LIGHT, costs around £26m compared with price tags exceeding £100m for existing machines. It is also more sophisticated than its rivals, according to Dr Mike Sinclair, chief executive of Advanced Oncotherapy.
"The most important advantage is that the speed with which you can move the beam means the machine can 'paint' the tumour in three dimensions very rapidly," said Dr Sinclair.
"You can adjust the power of the beam in different parts of the tumour and you can track the movement of organs. All these advances help protect healthy tissue."
Demand for the machine, which Dr Sinclair said had "not really been promoted yet", has been so great that the company is searching for ways to increase its production capacity.
"We have to pace ourselves," said Dr Sinclair, who had only expected to install around 10 machines within the next five years when the company first agreed to buy the spin-off in April. "Demand and interest in this has been greater and quicker than we anticipated," he said, adding that the company had clinched the eight early orders "without really having started promoting" the machine.
Scientists working in the 17-mile long Large Hadron Collider, which is located beneath the
Swiss French border, announced earlier this year that they had discovered a new type of particle they believed to be the Higgs boson, the so-called 'God particle' which is believed to give other material its mass.