Curing cancer with protons: The futuristic health of Argentina

The Argentine Proton Therapy Center will be the first of its kind in Latin America and is under construction in the national capital by the National Atomic Energy Commission, the highly complex technology company INVAP and the University of Buenos Aires. The president, Alberto Fernández, accompanied the arrival of the latest generation machinery.

The technological devices for complex radiosurgery at the new Argentine Proton Therapy Center look like components of a space shuttle: a Cyberknife robotic arm, a Versa HD linear particle accelerator, and a Proteus Plus cyclotron, which directs high-energy protons and minimizes adverse effects on the healthy tissues and organs.

There are very few countries that have treatments with proton technique, fundamentally those with economic capacity, both due to the investment and because it is more expensive than with photons, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Project Manager of Information and Communication Technologies ( TIC) of INVAP, the Argentine company of highly complex developments.

The facilities, which will be in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Agronomía, in the heart of the city of Buenos Aires, are still under construction in the stage of the civil work, but the unique machinery has already arrived in the country, so at the time of its inauguration, between 2022 and 2023, it will be the first to have this technology in all of Latin America.

The project is carried out by the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) and its Nuclear Diagnostic Center Foundation (FCDN), INVAP, and the Ángel H. Roffo Institute of Oncology, dependent on the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

It is part of an agreement for the creation and construction of a network of Nuclear Medicine and Radiotherapy Centers, signed in 2014 by the national government during the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), between the CNEA, the UBA, and various public health institutes specialized in oncology, neurology, and cardiology.

This new center was always thought of as the most advanced medical practice in radiotherapy, to form a triangle with the Roffo and the FCDN in the same space. It will have two very defined areas, one for radiotherapy for cancer patients who can do conventional but complex radiosurgery, and another for proton therapy, he commented.

How Protons Cure Cancer?

Rodríguez explained that the machinery that the president, Alberto Fernández, was to receive with an act on June 11, is the source of the protons, a cyclotron or particle accelerator that allows making both clinical images and special oncological treatments, more accurate than those with photons, like the other radiotherapy devices.

The peculiarity that protons have is that they enter the body to the area where the tumor is without delivering energy to healthy tissue. The advantage is that the beam does not damage the entrance or exit. It is very useful, for example when you have tumors near the marrow or some element that, from the point of view of radiosensitivity, could be affected immediately, detailed the aeronautical engineer.

Rodríguez mentioned that the reason why there are only around 120 centers with this technology in the world is that it involves millionaire investments, both for the purchase of equipment and for the construction of buildings to house them, since they are nuclear machinery that they require infrastructure with extremely meticulous levels of complexity and security.

It needs adequate shielding so that the radiation delivered to the patient does not pass through any wall and does not affect people outside. It has complexity at the building level much more similar to what an experimental reactor would be than a bunker. conventional, with greater control in security, access, environmental and ventilation with absolute filters, which require much more complex engineering, he specified.

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