Italy and the use of Synchrotron Radiation in Biomedicine

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The University of Milano Bicocca is a member of SYRA3, a Cost Action started in 2013 concerning Innovative Methods in Radiotherapy and Radiosurgery, using Synchrotron Radiation in Biomedicine and Molecular sciences. SYRA3 focuses on brain tumors and disorders of the central nervous system, studying the power of synchrotron radiation, in particular using the Grenoble synchrotron.

A Cost Action is an initiative that allows the coordination of nationally-funded science and technology research projects. It aims to reduce the fragmentation in European research and to open the European Research Area to cooperation worldwide.  In this respect, SYRA3 is intrinsically multidisciplinary. The purpose of this project is to create a network of physicists, biologists, doctors, chemists, in order to study the potential of a tool as powerful as the synchrotron. “Until now," says Guido Cavaletti, Head of the Experimental Neurology Unit of University of Milano Bicocca and Program Manager for Short Term Scientific Missions for SYRA3, "there was not so much collaboration between physicists, biologists and physicians. Each researcher working at the synchrotron follows its specific research and it is difficult to communicate because of the different languages spoken within the different branches of science.”

"For instance, in neuroscience," explains Cavaletti, "using a synchrotron allows to focus the radiation at a single point, bringing with it significant benefits from the medical perspective, but how it happens belongs to the field of physics. It is therefore clear that a collaboration between the different sciences is required when, as in this case, we get a beneficial effect from synchrotron radiation and we need to understand how and why the phenomenon occurs from a physical point of view.

“The project started recently and we are only just beginning”, says Cavaletti. SYRA3 involves as many as 14 European countries and Italy, with the University of Milan Bicocca, is one of the promoters. “It is not easy to find a synchrotron in European laboratories – adds Cavaletti – but in the future we will make enormous strides toward a technology equally powerful that can enter into our daily lives. Within a few years in Europe there will be many sources similar to the size of the magnetic resonance imaging but with the same power of the synchrotron, and placed in hospital.”

These future prospects seem to justify the economic investment in SYRA3 and the enthusiasm of researchers. Last October there was the kick off meeting in France and next April there will be the first conference in Poland, where the first projects of SYRA 3 will be presented. Funding for the first year amounted to 160-170 thousand euro, which had to cover the cost of the kick off and of the training activities of the students involved. A subsequent funding will vary depending on the use that is made of previous, but in principle they will tend to grow over the next five years.

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