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Laser-driven proton acceleration is suggested as a cost- and space-efficient alternative for future radiation therapy centers, although the properties of these beams are fairly different compared to conventionally accelerated proton beams. The laser-driven proton beam is extremely pulsed containing a very high proton number within ultrashort bunches at low bunch repetition rates of few Hz and the energy spectrum of the protons per bunch is very broad. Moreover, these laser accelerated bunches are subject to shot-to-shot fluctuations. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the feasibility of a compact gantry design for laser-driven proton therapy and to determine limitations to comply with.

Based on a published gantry beam line design which can filter parabolic spectra from an exponentially decaying broad initial spectrum, a treatment planning study was performed on real patient data sets. All potential parabolic spectra were fed into a treatment planning system and numerous spot scanning proton plans were calculated. To investigate limitations in the fluence per bunch, the proton number of the initial spectrum and the beam width at patient entrance were varied. A scenario where only integer shots are delivered as well as an intensity modulation from shot to shot was studied. The resulting plans were evaluated depending on their dosimetric quality and in terms of required treatment time. In addition, the influence of random shot-to-shot fluctuations on the plan quality was analyzed.

The study showed that clinically relevant dose distributions can be produced with the system under investigation even with integer shots. For small target volumes receiving high doses per fraction, the initial proton number per bunch must remain between 1.4 × 108 and 8.3 × 109 to achieve acceptable delivery times as well as plan qualities. For larger target volumes and standard doses per fraction, the initial proton number is even more restricted to stay between 1.4 × 109 and 2.9 × 109. The lowest delivery time that could be reached for such a case was 16 min for a 10 Hz system. When modulating the intensity from shot to shot, the delivery time can be reduced to 6 min for this scenario. Since the shot-to-shot fluctuations are of random nature, a compensation effect can be observed, especially for higher laser shot numbers. Therefore, a fluctuation of ±30% within the proton number does not translate into a dosimetric deviation of the same size. However, for plans with short delivery times these fluctuations cannot cancel out sufficiently, even for ±10% fluctuations.

Under the analyzed terms, it is feasible to achieve clinically relevant dose distributions with laser-driven proton beams. However, to keep the delivery times of the proton plans comparable to conventional proton plans for typical target volumes, a device is required which can modulate the bunch intensity from shot to shot. From the laser acceleration point of view, the proton number per bunch must be kept under control as well as the reproducibility of the bunches.


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