2019: Thomas R. Bortfeld

Proton Therapy

Dr. Thomas R. Bortfeld, Professor — Harvard Medical School; Chief of the Radiation Biophysics Division — Massachusetts General Hospital

Proton therapy has come a long way since its invention by Robert Wilson in 1946. Due to the physical characteristics of the Bragg peak, proton therapy is much better suited for the treatment of cancer than exponentially attenuated x-rays. Today 80 proton facilities treat 20,000 patients per year worldwide. However, less than 1% of all radiotherapy patients receive protons, which is primarily due to the higher cost of proton therapy. We will discuss the physics of making proton therapy more precise, more compact, and more affordable for many more patients. In particular, we will discuss how to detect and correct the range of proton beams in the patient through tissue activation, prompt gamma radiation, and acoustic waves. We will also present efforts to shrink the size and reduce the price of proton therapy by laser acceleration, use of more compact gantries, and advancement of gantry-less systems.


About the Speaker

Dr. Bortfeld received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1990. He started his career at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Medical Physics, interrupted by a short postdoctoral fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was instrumental in the early development of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Since 2001, Dr. Bortfeld has been at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, where he has developed and deployed multi-criteria optimization and robust optimization of treatment plans. In 2008 he was promoted to Professor at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Radiation Biophysics Division at MGH. His current research interests are imaging-guided temporospatial optimization of treatment delivery, better ways to define the clinical target volume, and making the benefits of proton therapy available to more patients.


About the Lecture Series

In 2011, The Barry Berman Memorial Lecture Series was created through a generous gift by one of his close collaborators and colleagues, Professor Cedric Yu, a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Radiation Oncology. Professors Berman and Yu formally worked together under a NIH-funded project on radiation cancer therapy. The goal of the lecture series is to inspire young people to study medical physics, by inviting nationally and internationally prominent scientists to speak on the application of physics principles to medicine.