A new imaging system has been developed that could help doctors pinpoint and treat cancer more accurately using cutting-edge proton therapy.
Three dimensional computerised tomography (CT) images were created using protons - the "hearts" of atoms - rather than X-rays.
Proton therapy uses beams of the sub-atomic particles to destroy deeply embedded and difficult to reach cancers, such as brain tumours. It also causes less damage to healthy tissue than conventional radiotherapy.
Two NHS Proton Therapy Centres are due to open in the next two years in London and Manchester.
Producing 3D images with protons makes the technique much more accurate and even less likely to cause radiation spill, said researchers - who revealed that they conducted tests on a lamb chop.
Professor Nigel Allinson, from the University of Lincoln, said: "To produce these proton CT images, we built a unique medical imaging platform which uses the same high energy particles that are used to destroy a tumour during proton therapy treatment.
"Like X-rays, protons can penetrate tissue to reach deep tumours. However, compared to X-rays, protons cause less damage to healthy tissue in front of the tumour, and no damage at all to healthy tissue lying behind, which greatly reduces the side effects of radiation therapy.
"The images we have created are in fact of a humble lamb chop, but they highlight the fantastic potential for using Proton CT images to aid cancer treatment in the very near future."
Currently there is a significant degree of uncertainty in the range and accuracy of proton therapy treatment. If reliant on X-ray CT images, there could be a discrepancy of 3-5% in terms of where the proton beam hits and releases its energy.
Using proton CT images, this uncertainty is reduced to less than 1%.
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