Envisioning better health

Manjit Dosanjh, CERN's life sciences advisor and member of the Knowledge Transfer group, explains benefits of multidisciplinary conferences for health


Last year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of ENLIGHT, the multidisciplinary European Network for Light Ion Hadron Therapy, which was launched at CERN in 2002.

At that time, the establishment of a multidisciplinary platform that would gather clinicians, physicists, biologists, computer experts and engineers with experience in proton and carbon ion therapy seemed an impossible challenge. However, time proved our idea successful, and the bringing together of different communities and sustaining the dialogue between them is highly appreciated by all stakeholders.

Thanks to the continuous support of CERN’s management, we applied this same innovative approach to the Physics for Health (PHE) workshop, in which the health-related topics were tackled from the perspective of biology, medicine and physics. Members of these communities came to CERN in 2010 to take part in our first PHE workshop. I was glad to see how scientists from many disciplines recognized CERN as a catalyst for research and development in medical physics.

Prof. Jacques Bernier, head of the radiotherapy department at the Genolier Clinic in Switzerland and chairman of the International Conference on Translational Research in Radio-Oncology (ICTR) conferences, was among the participants and after the workshop he came to see me to discuss the possibility of working together. The ICTR vision (from laboratory to the patient’s bed) matched the vision of PHE (from basic science technology to medical application), and the rest is history.

The partnership of PHE with the ICTR conference greatly enhanced the participation of the medical community, and the first joint conference in 2012 turned into a successful event where it was possible to share existing knowledge and identify new strategies. The success of this first meeting was a real motivator to organize an even more ambitious conference for 2014. In this new version, topics of interest for the different disciplines will be strategically intertwined to maximize the cross-fertilization of medical and basic research cultures. Our idea is that the more opportunities we provide for dialogue, the more likely it will be to cultivate initiatives that reflect the needs and requirements of scientists and medical doctors.

New developments are already taking shape at CERN, following the exchanges of ideas at these conferences, such as exploiting ISOLDE to produce rare isotopes for medical research and using LEIR to provide a variety of ion beams for biomedical studies. The LEIR biomedical facility is a project particularly dear to my heart, as it reminds me of the time I was doing research in Berkeley, where accelerators initially conceived for particle physics were used for biological and clinical research.

The way from basic science to the patient’s bed is paved with challenges. Easing this path and making state-of-the art technologies quickly and more readily available for better healthcare is my long-term dream. Hopefully, these conferences are the first steps.