Could LEIR serve biomedicine?

At a recent brainstorming meeting at CERN, over 200 scientists discussed the possibility of modifying LEIR to serve the biomedical community

The Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR) produces high-density ion beams for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and for the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) fixed-target experiments. Since its operational schedule is not fully booked, LEIR could in principle be exploited further: it could feed beams to biomedical experiments. 

With its 78-metre circumference, LEIR is small by synchrotron standards. The accelerator receives particles from Linac 3 and turns them into useable beams for the SPS and the LHC. But serving ions to biomedical experiments would require considerable tinkering. “In order for LEIR to provide ion beams with appropriate energies for studies of biomedical interest, a new ejection system with new beamlines needs to be designed,” says Christian Carli of the Beams department. “Linac 3 could be upgraded to include a second ion source and a radiofrequency quadrupole optimized for ions of interest for biomedical studies.”

LEIR has the prerequisites to attract attention from the vast community of scientists – medics, physicists, biologists and others – involved in hadron therapy, radiation protection and other biomedical applications. The LEIR facility could provide ion species from protons up to at least neon ions, and biomedical activities could take place during LHC ion runs. The effect of the beams on biological targets such as cancerous human cells could then be tested. Dosimetry systems, radiation detectors, as well as proton radiography and tomography devices could also be tested.

“Over 200 scientists from 26 countries, mostly from the European Union but also from Australia, Canada, Colombia, India, Mexico, Russia and US, attended the brainstorming meeting,” says event organizer and CERN life sciences advisor Manjit Dosanjh. “Several of the 17 presentations pointed out that CERN could be an ideal location for such a facility because of the lab’s expertise in beam production, detector development, advanced computing and analysis". But the current absence of clinical activities at CERN could itself be an advantage, says Dosanjh, since all efforts are concentrated on research. She says that established links with other biomedical centres in Europe through networks like ENLIGHT are also an advantage.

A new facility could bring members of the biomedical community together to set up a training centre for researchers in the field. The EU Framework Programme 8 (Horizon 2020) is a possible source of funds for the related infrastructure. The fact that the basic infrastructure already exists would ensure necessary cost-effectiveness.

Click here for meeting details and presentation materials