Proton Therapy

Global Leaders in Proton Therapy Research

Cincinnati Children’s is leading the world in proton therapy research through several significant efforts. Our groundbreaking work includes the first in-human FLASH proton therapy clinical trial, unique proton and immunotherapy studies, innovative basic science research and more.

Our team is determined to advance the science behind proton therapy. That’s why our program made a $24 million investment to build a dedicated proton therapy research gantry. We are the only academic medical center in the world with a dedicated research gantry that can be used for both basic and clinical research. We’re using it to develop safe radiation treatments for cancer patients everywhere.

Our Research

World’s First FLASH Clinical Trial

Our researchers led the world’s first in-human FLASH proton therapy clinical trial in 2022. FLASH delivers an ultra-high dose rate of proton therapy radiation in less this one second. The initial trial with adult participants showed clinical feasibility as well as preliminary efficacy and safety of the treatment. The promising results were recognized and celebrated across the world. In fact, Physics World ranked it among the magazine’s “Top 10 Breakthroughs of the Year for 2022.”

This FLASH research has wide implications for the future of cancer care because about half of all cancer patients worldwide receive radiation as part of their treatment. Additional studies are underway at our center to learn more about what the future holds for this exciting new therapy.

Immune Response Research

New research suggests that radiation therapy may “unmask” some cancers so they can be recognized and killed by the patient’s immune system. We’ve developed new clinical trial research regimens. These combine radiation with other drugs that also stimulate a patient’s own immune cells to potentially recognize and target the cancerous cells. This type of treatment is called combination immunotherapy with radiation therapy. We’re testing it in a clinical trial for patients with relapsed or difficult-to-treat sarcomas, liver and kidney tumors, lymphomas and other cancers.

Other Pre-Clinical Proton Therapy Research

Basic research plays a key role in advancing the clinical use of proton therapy. For example, a pre-clinical study of lung cancers also studied immune system responses and proton therapy. Early results from this research show that FLASH offers a double benefit compared to conventional proton treatments. In this study, FLASH killed the cancer more efficiently and also activated an immune system response to lung cancer. Now, additional pre-clinical research at our Proton Therapy Center is examining this effect on other pediatric and adult cancers.

In addition, researchers also are studying the impact of X-ray and proton therapy on lymphoma cells through RNA sequencing. Initially, the team believed both types of radiation resulted in the same clinical response. However, their work shows that lymphoma cells respond differently to proton therapy, potentially leading to the identification of new therapeutic targets.