Powerful radiation source to further cancer research

Plans to construct Europe's most intense terahertz (THz) radiation source to further development of cancer research are underway at the University of Liverpool

Physicists will construct an ultra-high intensity THz beamline and attempt to destroy skin cancer cells specially grown in a new tissue culture facility. The experiments will help scientists understand how to use this technology in future treatments for the disease in humans.

The THz beamline, funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) through its North West Science Fund, will be developed using the prototype Fourth Generation Light Source (4GLS) being constructed at CCLRC Daresbury Laboratory, which will be used to develop light sources used in X-ray technology, laser studies and radiation sources.

Physicist, Professor Peter Weightman, said: "The prototype 4GLS facility is based on an Energy Recovery Linear accelerator. The energy produced by firing electrons around this accelerator will partly be used to power the THz beamline, which will link up to a tissue culture facility developed with scientists at the University of Nottingham.

"The culture facility will be used to grow skin cancer cells and the THz radiation will target the source of the cancer. THz is absorbed by water and cancer cells retain water, so the THz radiation should be consumed by the cell and kill it off at the source."

Terahertz radiation has also been used in the detection of concealed weapons, explosives and drugs as it has the ability to penetrate a variety of materials such as clothing, paper, cardboard, wood, masonry, plastics and ceramics. THz can also pick up on vibrations and rotations of molecules and has been useful in identifying molecules floating in space.

The team at Liverpool hope to develop these applications using the most powerful source of broad band terahertz available in Europe - a thousand times more powerful than current laboratory sources.

This will be the first time THz technology has been used on cancer cells and it will also be developed to characterise genetic material. THz has the capability of identifying mutations in DNA, which could help medics identify pharmaceutical therapies that will be compatible with individual patients' DNA information.

Dr George Baxter, NWDA Director of Science and Innovation, said: "The NWDA is delighted to support this innovative project that will help develop new technology for the treatment of cancer. Investment in this project forms part of the NWDA's commitment to build and sustain a knowledge based economy for England's North West."

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The THz beamline will be fully operational in autumn 2007.

Notes to editors

1. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than 90 million annually.

2. Daresbury Laboratory is part of the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC). CCLRC operates world-class large scale research facilities, provides independent strategic advice to government on their development and manages international research projects in support of a broad cross-section of the UK research community. Daresbury Laboratory's advanced research facilities include the SRS (the UK's synchrotron light source) and advanced computing facilities.

3. The University of Nottingham undertakes world-changing research and provides teaching of the highest quality. Ranked in the THES World Top 100 Universities, its academics have won two Nobel Prizes since 2003. An international institution, the University has campuses in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and China.

4. The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) is responsible for the sustainable economic development and regeneration of England's northwest and has five key priorities: business, people and jobs, skills and education, infrastructure and quality of life.

5. The North West Science Fund, set up by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and managed by the North West Science Council, is helping to forge university/industry partnerships that will speed up the transfer of scientific discoveries into world-class commercial products.


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