The UMCG and the MAASTRO Clinic have been awarded with a grant of over € 1.5 million by the Dutch Cancer Society KWF. They will join forces with HollandPTC in Delft, all the other university medical centres, the Netherlands Cancer Institute/Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and the Prinses Máxima Centrum (PMC) to set up a research infrastructure for proton therapy (ProTRAIT). Globally, this is the first academic research infrastructure which offers unprecedented opportunities for supporting research into the effectiveness and added benefits of this new form of radiation treatment. The project will be headed by Prof. Hans Langendijk, Head of the Department of Radiotherapy at UMCG, and Prof. André Dekker, Manager of Research/Teaching and clinical physicist at the MAASTRO Clinic. The project will last for three years.
The centres will set up a joint database to store the data of all patients treated with proton therapy in the Netherlands. The data includes details of dosage, toxicity, complications and quality of life. It will initially be gathered and stored by the individual centres, and then automatically linked through an advanced IT structure. The next step will be to incorporate the data into an existing national database for cancer research (TRAIT).
Researchers will be able to study the effectiveness and added benefits of proton therapy compared with the current practice of radiation therapy with photons (radiotherapy). Combining this partnership between the cancer centres with ProTRAIT will put the Netherlands at the forefront of scientific research into proton therapy.
Proton therapy will be available in the Netherlands from late 2017 onwards, at centres in Groningen and Delft, with Maastricht following later. In 2014, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport Edith Schippers gave the go-ahead for the construction of four proton centres in Amsterdam, Delft, Groningen and Maastricht. They will provide a total of 2,200 treatments per year.
Using proton therapy, a small but highly accurate dose of radiation can be administered to a tumour, causing less damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This reduces the risk of side-effects. National indication protocols are in place to help doctors decide whether proton therapy will benefit a patient more than regular radiotherapy with photons. The protocols are based on calculation models and comparative planning studies. Proton therapy is of particular benefit to children with cancer and patients with tumours in the base of their skull or eyes. Proton therapy is also effective for treating other forms of cancer, including cancer of the breast, prostate, head & neck, oesophagus and lungs.