Funding approved for state-of-the-art UCLH Proton Therapy Cancer Facility

5 August 2013

Funding approved for state-of-the-art UCLH Proton Therapy Cancer Facility

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry has announced a commitment of £250 million of funding for state-of-the-art Proton Beam Therapy cancer treatment centres in London and Manchester. The centres will be established at University College London Hospital and The Christie in Manchester, making this advanced form of radiotherapy available in the UK for the first time. UCL is working with UCLH on the construction of the London facility, accompanied by an extensive research programme to improve this cutting-edge cancer treatment.

Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) is a much more precise way of targeting tumours. With conventional radiotherapy, X-rays not only damage the tumour but also the surrounding tissue, which can have significant side-effects. Protons, however, deposit much more energy exactly where it is needed, destroying the malignant cells but sparing much more of the surrounding healthy tissue. This is most important for deep-lying tumours growing near highly sensitive tissue, such as the optic nerve and the brain, particularly when treating children. By reducing the dose to the healthy organs of growing children, significant side effects in later life — such as secondary cancers, growth abnormalities, hearing loss or learning difficulties — can be reduced.

High energy physics isn’t just for exploring the sub-atomic universe

Dr Simon Jolly

Currently, the NHS sends only a selection of children and adults needing Proton Beam Therapy to the United States, but from 2018 some 1,500 cancer patients with the most complex tumours will be treated at UCLH and The Christie. This governmental commitment to increasing access to advanced radiotherapy treatments will significantly improve the experience for patients and their families who currently have to travel long distances for treatment.

The technology used for this advanced form of radiotherapy comes from an unlikely source: the study of sub-atomic particles. "High energy physics isn’t just for exploring the sub-atomic universe," says Dr Simon Jolly, an accelerator physicist within the department working on both facilities. "The accelerator technology used in proton beam therapy comes directly from high energy physics, developed for particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider to investigate nature's fundamental building blocks. Without that pure research we wouldn’t have these tools for cancer treatment."

Of the small number of PBT clinics worldwide, very few treat the complexity of cases that UCLH and The Christie will be prioritizing. This has meant that research into improving proton therapy in the treatment of cancers for which it is most beneficial has been limited. As such, PBT research has many open challenges, including:

  • accurate delivery of the beam with millimetre precision;
  • monitoring the amount and location of the delivered dose;
  • improving the speed and effectiveness of treatment to allow more patients to be treated;
  • establishing further data on the effect of dose delivery to various tissues;
  • streamlining data management for the large amounts of patient referral data .

As Gary Royle, Professor of Radiotherapy at UCL Medical Physics & Bioengineering, says: “Proton therapy is a highly technical form of cancer treatment that sits at the interface between a variety of disciplines across engineering, science and medicine. A state-of-the-art proton therapy clinic on UCL's doorstep will enable the considerable research expertise that exists across the campus in each of those areas to directly benefit UCLH cancer patients and truly advance the field.”

News & Media

Government commits £250 million for innovative cancer treatment to save lives and reduce side effects. A major new cutting edge radiotherapy treatment will be available in the UK thanks to £250 million of government funding to build two new facilities in Manchester and London, Public Health Minister Anna Soubry confirmed today. 


UCLH to provide world-leading radiotherapy for cancer patients. The world’s most advanced form of radiotherapy is coming to UCLH (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) after the Government today committed £250 million to bring Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) to the UK.