Lifetime Achievement: Yves Jongen
Proton therapy: A more targeted approach to treating cancer
With his smaller and more affordable version of a proton-generating device called the ‘cyclotron', engineer Yves Jongen paved the way for making proton therapy - which targets tumours more precisely than conventional X-rays - available to a growing number of patients around the world.
Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium
The invention in a nutshell
In the fight against cancer, proton radiation offers a far more targeted and gentle alternative to X-rays, which can cause significant damage to healthy cells and lose intensity on their way through the body.
Engineer Yves Jongen greatly advanced proton therapy for cancer and made it available to a much larger number of people. To reduce the cost and boost the use of proton therapy, he pioneered the construction of a compact and efficient version of the proton-generating device called the ‘cyclotron', which was designed for clinical and therapeutic use.
Proton therapy not only eradicates tumours more efficiently than conventional X-rays, but patients are also exposed to far less damaging radiation. As a consequence, studies suggest that protons pose a 50 to 80% lesser risk of causing secondary, radiation-related cancers than X-rays, increasing the number of patients who emerge from therapy completely cancer-free.
In the early 1990s, proton-treatment facilities still cost around €100 million each, with treatment costs at about €100,000 per patient - four times the cost of conventional radiation therapy. In 2007, Jongen's new, compact proton-therapy system lowered costs to about €24 million per unit. Proton therapy has since become a viable alternative to X-rays in clinical practice with more than 21,000 patients treated so far- and counting.