University of Cape Town proposes a proton therapy centre for cancer patients

UCT has proposed the establishment of a proton therapy centre. File Picture: Independent Newspapers

UCT has proposed the establishment of a proton therapy centre. File Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 26, 2024


The University of Cape Town has proposed a design and business case for a proton therapy centre to be established in Cape Town for cancer patients.

In its proposal, the university said a team would be designing the technical specifications and the centre will be located near both the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital.

Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy for cancer that utilises a beam of energetic protons from a cyclotron (a machine that accelerates charged particles to speeds approaching the speed of light).

The unique characteristics of this proton beam allow a type of radiotherapy treatment which is highly effective for a wide range of tumours and significantly reduces the late side effects of radiation therapy.

In children in particular, proton beam therapy is now recognised as superior to conventional radiotherapy techniques with less damage to normal tissue and reduced risk of secondary malignancy.

Currently, there are 131 proton therapy centres in operation globally which are located in the northern hemisphere. There are two proton therapy centres under construction in the southern hemisphere — in Argentina and Australia.

The centre is the first to be proposed for sub-Saharan Africa.

Interim Vice-Chancellor at UCT, Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy welcomed the proposal of the centre.

“This proposal represents a pivotal stride toward advancing healthcare accessibility, fostering scientific excellence, and providing our communities with state-of-the-art cancer treatment options that they deserve,” Reddy said.

The proton therapy centre in Cape Town will be designed to benefit from the very latest technological advances, and include facilities for the production of short-lived radioisotopes for nuclear medicine, and beamlines for research in physics, engineering, neuroscience, radiation metrology and radiobiology.

The centre will be a unique world-leading resource not only for South Africa but for the African continent. The financial sustainability plan will have both public and commercial components.

The university said the multidisciplinary project features both an outstanding oncology clinical team based at the university and associated hospitals, spanning public and private sectors and strong expertise in accelerator-based research and development. iThemba LABS national facility is located in Cape Town and operates many accelerators for radioisotope production and research, but no longer offers proton therapy, leaving a critical gap in cancer therapy in the region.

The project will be jointly led by the Director of the Metrological and Applied Sciences Research Unit in the Department of Physics, Professor Andy Buffler, the head of Radiation Oncology, Professor Jeannette Parkes, and the Director of the Donald Gordon Neuroscience Institute, Professor Graham Fieggen.

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