From CERN magnet technologies to innovation in hadron therapy


Application Domains

Derived from developments in accelerators, detectors and computing, the state-of-the-art technologies behind particle physics have historically contributed to innovations in the field of medical technologies. Scientist and magnet expert Luca Bottura is currently working on CERN’s latest contribution to this - GaToroid, a novel superconducting and lightweight gantry with the potential to revolutionise the field of hadron therapy. Gantries are the large structures that surround the patient and guide the beam during hadron therapy treatment.

Luca started his journey at CERN in 1995, and is today leading the Organization’s Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats group. Coming from a background in nuclear engineering, his first encounter with the field of medical technologies took place when he arrived at CERN. Although Luca does not consider himself a specialist in medical technologies, he was part of a team contributing to the measurement of magnets for the Austrian hadron therapy facility MedAustron, followed by a contribution to the Italian facility CNAO. Little did Luca know that years later, he would be working on developing a novel gantry within the same field.

Gantries are complex pieces of engineering, representing a considerable part of the installation costs and footprint in hadron therapy. The enormous size of today’s gantries, combined with the lack of viable standard technological solutions, poses relevant constraints on future hadron therapy facilities. Well aware of these challenges, Luca came up with a new, innovative gantry design based upon a toroidal magnet concept, which bends the treatment beam without the need to rotate the structure. Due to the use of superconductors, GaToroid will substantially reduce the weight and footprint compared to conventional gantries. What is interesting about this novel invention, is the fact that it is not the output of a targeted research study, but a result of serendipity coming from Luca’s connection to other fields of applied science, his own professional experience and a curious mind.


“This idea has a touch of insanity.”

Luca Bottura, Leader of the CERN Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats group.


In order to make this project a reality, Luca is working in close collaboration with the Knowledge Transfer (KT) group at CERN. He highlights the important role of KT in supporting and liaising with medical experts and industry in order for the development to proceed. A patent was successfully filed in 2018, and the project is currently receiving funding from the CERN Medical Applications Budget. Luca emphasises that the concept is still at the idea stage, where he and his team will spend the next months solving the open points of the project, working their way towards an operational solution.