Georgia joins world’s best offering cutting-edge cancer research, treatment

24 May 2016

  • Georgia’s Technological Institute will be the fifth largest this kind of facility in the world. Photo: Artist’s impression of the centre.

By Lali Tsertsvadze

Journalist of Agenda.ge

Agenda.ge, 24 May 2016, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia is on track to become one of the few countries that offers an innovative cancer treatment that targets damaged cancer cells and has reduced side effects compared to conventional cancer treatment.

The treatment itself is called hadron therapy, where radiation only targets damaged cells while healthy tissues remain intact.

To allow Georgia to offer this revolutionary treatment, the country’s leading scientists will work together with the best scientists in the world to create new technologies and improve existing methods of this treatment.

Exploring the benefits of hadron therapy and many other cutting-edge projects will be thought, worked through and implemented at the new Technological Institute of Georgia.

A sod-turning ceremony for Technological Institute of Georgia was held in Tbilisi on May 23. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

Creating future technologies today

Georgia officially launched construction of the country’s new Technological Institute, a science-education centre for modern technology development, in capital Tbilisi on May 23.

The new facility will be the first of its kind in the country and the fifth largest technological institute in the world following Italy, Switzerland, Japan and Austria.

The centre will be a place where the region’s leading physicians, chemists, biologists, medical experts and computer specialists will work on future’s mega projects, conduct experiments and research and come up with innovative ideas.

An artist's impression of Technological Institute of Georgia. 

Hadron therapy will be one of the main focuses of the centre. Hadron therapy is a type of radiation treatment that uses high-energy beams to treat tumors.

The Technological Institute of Georgia will include a hadron collider – a particle accelerator involving directed beams of particles – that’s similar to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN but on a smaller scale.

This facility will offer experts the ability to conduct scientific experiments and have the technical support that’s needed for developing hadron therapy research.

The Technological Institute of Georgia will include a hadron collider. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

What does this mean for patients?

Hadron therapy is an advanced form of radiotherapy. Radiation therapy using X-rays has long been used to treat cancerous and benign tumours. About 40 percent of people who survive cancer do so because of radiotherapy, says Cancer Research UK.

However, conventional radiotherapy is not an option for many patients whose tumors are located near vital organs. For these patients hadron therapy could be the best option.

In today’s world if a patient needs hadron treatment in a country like Georgia, they are sent to one of the few western countries that offer this service. This is associated with lots of finances and inconvenience. Experts believed having such an option available locally would be hugely beneficial for many cancer patients and their families in Georgia and the wider region.

But not all patients are suitable for hadron therapy.

Children or young adults, and patients with cancers located close to vital organs or body structures are the ideal patients for this type of treatment. Why? This is because with this type of therapy, doctors can better control where the radiation beams deposit their energy so nearby healthy tissues are saved.

"Hadron therapy is not a substitute for conventional radiotherapy but is believed to be an ideal technique for those cancers where conventional radiotherapy does not provide significant advantages,” Director General of Italy’s National Centre of Oncological Hadron Therapy (CNAO), Dr. Sandro Rossi told Agenda.ge.

Dr Rossi was one of the world leading scientists who attended the inauguration of construction of Technological Institute in Tbilisi yesterday.

Dr. Sandro Rossi, Director General of Italy’s National Centre of Oncological Hadron Therapy (CNAO). Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

He explained some tumors, such as radio-resistant tumors because of their biological behaviour, were less likely to be cured by conventional radiotherapy.

Dr Rossi added tumors in challenging locations often couldn’t be irradiated by doses high enough to be effective because it could harm healthy organs.

"These ‘limits’ can be overcome by hadrons - specifically protons and carbon ions - due to their different physical nature compared to X-rays used in conventional radiotherapy,” Rossi said.

He noted the intrinsic physical properties of these particles allowed doctors to conform the dose "around the tumor” with greater accuracy, while saving the surrounding healthy tissue.

Georgia plays increasing role in world science

Hadron therapy research is ongoing and has shown promising results in the treatment of many kinds of tumors. For Georgia, having a proper facility with world-class professionals, will mean the country is able to contribute to further exploring this potentially life-saving treatment.

"We are starting today a long journey,” said Sergio Bertolucci, an Italian physicist who during his career has held leading roles at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) and INFN (the National Institute of Nuclear Physics).

Sergio Bertolucci, an internationally known Italian physicist participated in a sod-turning ceremony for the Technological Institute of Georgia. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge 

He assessed Georgia’s Technological Institute as a "cutting-edge project” and said it was "very ambitious and very realistic”.

Bertolucci said it was ambitious because it was big and it was realistic because it "counted on very solid basis” meaning Georgia’s world-class scientists.

One of the leading players involved in developing the concept of Georgia’s Technological Institute was internationally-known Georgian physicist Giorgi (Gia) Dvali. Dvali is a professor of physics at New York University's Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics and at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. He is also a director at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich.

Gia Dvali, a professor of physics at New York University's Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics and at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

Dvali told Agenda.ge the scale of Georgia’s Technological Institute was not largest in the world but it had the ambition to be of the highest quality.

"We can’t compromise on quality,” Dvali stressed.

While talking about the direction of hadron therapy research, Dvali said the Technological Institute was "not just another medical facility” but it was all about "fundamental research and education”.

"You cannot buy this kind of project from someone but you need to build it,” he said.

The new Technological Institute will also serve as an educational space offering master’s and PhD programs to future scientists. These girls could be among the centre’s future students.

Ani Laperishvili, Maiko Zirakadze and Tamar Kaladze, students of Georgia's Technical University who are interested in high energy physics and plan to study at the Technological Institute in the future. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

All expenses needed to build the Technological Institute will be provided by the Cartu Charity Foundation - a charity fund established and financed by Georgian business tycoon and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili also attended yesterday's inauguration of construction.

From left: Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, physicist Gia Dvali and Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge 

One of the big names at Monday’s ceremony was Professor Lars Brink, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who chaired the Nobel Committee for Physics.

"Today is a great day for Georgia and a great day for science,” said Professor Brink in his speech.

Professor Lars Brink, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who chaired the Nobel Committee for Physics. Photo by Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge

The Professor recalled his previous visit to Georgia and compared it to this latest visit. When he first visited Georgia it was during the Soviet era and he saw "a chaotic system and friendly people” but this time he saw "a very organised system and still friendly people”.

He congratulated Georgia for creating the new Technological Institute and he believed the facility would benefit not only the people of Georgia, but people all over the world.

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