90-tonne cancer-fighting cyclotron arrives in London

20 June 2018

Cancer-fighting equipment that will transform the lives of hundreds of NHS cancer patients every year has arrived in London (19 June 2018).

The size of a family car and weighing the same as seven London buses, the cyclotron is the beating heart of the proton beam therapy centre at UCLH, being delivered by Bouygues UK.

Proton beam therapy (PBT) is a form of radiotherapy that destroys cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy with less damage to surrounding tissue. This is particularly important for children and young people, and when cancers are in certain parts of the body.

PBT can protect fertility, IQ or growth and reduce the risks of developing a radiation-induced new cancer in the future, or the need for life-long hormone replacement.

The NHS has one of the most successful programmes to enable people to access proton beam therapy overseas, with over 1,200 patients treated since 2008. Together with the Department of Health, NHS England is funding the development of two world-class centres, one in Manchester and the other here at UCLH in London, for NHS patients to be treated in the UK.

As part of the NHS treatment programme, Emily Major, 26, made the journey to the United States to have PBT.

Emily Major said:
“I had PBT back in 2015 in the States to make sure that my cancers were completely removed. Now I have regained my strength and enjoy my active life, working full time. It is really exciting seeing this new centre being built and it is great that it means people will be able to have PBT in London.”

Creating the beam of protons is a feat of physics and engineering. The cyclotron is cooled to -269˚C and spins ionised hydrogen at two-thirds the speed of light. This creates the beam of protons that is then guided via massive magnets to the treatment room, where a three-storey machine delivers the treatment to the patient with millimetre accuracy.

Having travelled 400 miles from Germany via Holland to UCLH, the machine is being lowered into its especially constructed vault – a key milestone in the construction of the 11-storey facility at UCLH.

Marcel Levi, UCLH CEO, said:
“With the NHS turning 70 this year, it is absolutely fantastic to be investing in world leading treatments and facilities. When the PBT centre opens, more adults, young people and children will be able to access this treatment, ensuring better recovery and fewer side effects than possible with other treatments.”

Following a staff vote, the cyclotron has been named Lise, honouring Lise Meitner’s pioneering work in radioactivity and nuclear physics, including her role in the discovery of nuclear fission in the 1930s.

Steve Powis, NHS England’s National Medical Director, said:
“Today marks an exciting milestone in the NHS’s continuing delivery of world-class cancer treatment. As the NHS celebrates seventy years of high-quality patient care, the arrival of this proton beam equipment is just one example of the innovative technology that the health service will be able to rely on in the years to come.”

Fabienne Viala, Chairman of Bouygues UK, the construction company responsible for the delivery of the new PBT centre at UCLH, said:
“The delivery of the cyclotron is a technically complex and exacting process that we and our experienced infrastructure colleagues at Bouygues Travaux Publics have spent months preparing for.

“The cyclotron is a critical component of the new PBT centre and we are very proud to be involved in the delivery of such an innovative and challenging build that will provide a revolutionary and precise form of treatment for NHS cancer patients.”

The PBT centre at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, is due to start treating patients later this year, with the UCLH centre opening in 2020.


Notes to editors

About the cyclotron

• The cyclotron is the size of a family car and weighs the same as seven London buses.
• The cyclotron is cooled by liquid helium to -269˚C and accelerates ionized hydrogen gas to two-thirds the speed of light (over 100,000 miles per second).
• The protons are then guided using huge magnets, along a beam line to the treatment room where they are delivered with millimetre accuracy to target the cancer.
• The treatment rooms are fed by the same cyclotron. Each treatment room has a gantry, with an arm which rotates 360 degrees directing the proton to where it is needed. Each gantry is three-storeys high and targets the beam of proton particles with millimetre precision to treat a tumour or cancer within a patient. The gantries are due to be delivered over the summer.

About the building

With five storeys below ground and six above, the height of the building (including below ground) is 58.5 metres, making it equivalent to London’s Tower Bridge. The total size of the building is 31,500 sqm.

Below ground: 16,000 square metre five-level building extending 28.5 metres below ground for PBT.
Below ground there will be:

• Multi-storey gantries for the proton beam therapy equipment
• Two mechanical and electrical plant levels
• Two floors for patient proton beam therapy care
• Eight surgical theatres.

Above ground: 15,500 square metre, six-storey hospital.
Above ground there will be six floors which include Europe’s largest centre for the treatment of blood disorders.

The site is built on:
• the remains of the Rosenheim Building (haematology, endocrinology, dermatology and rheumatology and infusion clinic) constructed in the 1900s
• demolished Odeon cinema occupied part of the site
• an unfinished concrete structure

Key facts:

• Earth excavated: 80,000m3, which is the equivalent of 640 double decker buses, or enough to make 39,000,000 bricks
• 28.5 metres below ground
• 30 metres above ground
• 3000 people will be involved in the construction overall
• 1,100,000 iPhones could be charged with the power needed for the Centre.
• The building will require just over 44,000 cubic metres of concrete reinforced with approximately 8,000 tonnes of steel.


Cyclotron at UCLH (_03)

A cyclotron, which is the device that will supply the power, arrives at the new specialist Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) centre for NHS patients at University College Hospital in London, which has been built by Bouygues UK and funded by the Department of Health and NHS England.
Photo (c) David Parry/PA Wire