What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is an advanced form of non-invasive radiotherapy that delivers high-energy, positively charged ions (protons) to the site of a cancerous tumour.

Proton therapy can destroy cancer cells while minimising damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

How does proton therapy differ from conventional radiotherapy?

Both proton therapy and conventional radiotherapy with x-rays irradiate cancers, damaging the DNA of cells with which the radiation interacts. While x-rays pass all the way through the patient, interacting with cells along the way, proton therapy deposits most of its cell-damaging energy within the tumour, minimising interaction with surrounding healthy tissues.

Reducing the radiation dose to healthy tissues can lessen short and long-term side effects of treatment and can also lower the risk of treatment-induced second cancer.

How does proton beam therapy work?

A particle accelerator, known as a synchrotron, generates a beam of high-energy protons. The required energy of the beam can be programmed to deliver the majority of its radiation dose to a precise depth and defined area, reducing radiation to surrounding healthy tissues

The proton radiation destroys cancer cells’ ability to divide and proliferate, thereby killing the cancer.

What type of cancers can be treated with proton therapy?

Proton therapy is used against solid cancers with defined borders.

The precise nature of proton therapy makes it a preferred option for cancers that are close to vital organs such as the eyes, brain and spinal column. Reduced radiation exposure to healthy tissues also makes proton therapy beneficial for children whose bodies are still growing and developing.

International research continues to investigate the efficacy of proton therapy against a range of other cancers including prostate cancer and breast cancer.


What are the side-effects of proton therapy?

By delivering less radiation to healthy tissues surrounding a tumour, proton therapy can have fewer and less severe side-effects than conventional radiotherapy.

Proton therapy is a painless, non-invasive treatment. Depending on the area of the body being treated and the size of the tumour, it can cause generalised fatigue and some hair loss, swelling or skin irritation at the treatment site.

Is there a difference between proton therapy and particle therapy?

Particle therapy refers to any of several forms of external beam radiotherapy using beams of energized ions for cancer treatment.

Proton therapy is the most common form of particle therapy. The other currently available form of particle therapy is carbon ion therapy.

When will the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research be operational?

The Australian Bragg Centre building was completed in late 2023. The installation and calibration of the proton therapy equipment will need to take place before the proton therapy unit is ready to treat patients.

Once operational, it’s estimated the Centre will treat around 600 patients per year, with 30-50% of those being children, adolescents or young adults.

Who will receive treatment at the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research?

The Centre will be able to treat around 600 people per year once fully operational. Around 30-50% of patients will be children, adolescents or young adults.

It has been recommended that treatment for Australians with certain cancer types be publicly funded. For more information about which cancer treatments have been proposed for public funding, visit the Medical Services Advisory Committee’s relevant Public Summary Document.

What proton therapy system is being installed at the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research?

The Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research will operate a Radiance 330 proton beam therapy system, designed and manufactured by ProTom International. It is the same system that is in operation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA.

The Radiance 330 system is a state-of-the-art system based on a proton synchrotron accelerator. It has the highest beam energy available on the market with unique capabilities in performing proton radiography and computed tomography.

How much does proton beam therapy cost?

Proton therapy is more expensive than conventional radiotherapy.

The Medical Services Advisory Committee – a national, independent, non-statutory committee – has recommended to the Federal Government that proton therapy for certain cancers be publicly funded. A comparative planning process, based in Adelaide, is already in place to determine whether an individual would benefit from proton therapy instead of conventional radiotherapy.

Currently, patients who are deemed suitable candidates for proton therapy must travel overseas to access their treatment. They can apply to have this funded through the Federal Government’s Medical Treatment Overseas Program.

Can proton beam therapy be combined with other treatments?

Yes. Depending on the cancer being treated, proton therapy can be used alongside conventional radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and surgery.

Who will work at the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research?

Proton therapy treatments will be guided by a multidisciplinary team including radiation oncologists, radiation therapists, medical physicists and oncology nurses. They will be supported in their patient care by radiation engineers and administrative staff.

The facility will also be used by teams of researchers investigating novel aspects of proton beam therapy.

Why is it called the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research?

Proton therapy can deliver highly localised radiation because of a phenomenon known as the ‘Bragg Peak’. This phenomenon is named after Nobel Laureate Sir William Henry Bragg who made the discovery while working at the University of Adelaide in 1904.

Sir William Henry Bragg and his Adelaide-born son and fellow Nobel Prize recipient Sir William Lawrence Bragg made significant contributions to scientific innovation across their distinguished careers, particularly in physics on which the field of radiotherapy is heavily based.

What else will be located within the Australian Bragg Centre?

Three of the 12 above-ground floors of the building will be occupied by researchers from SAHMRI’s existing Themes focusing on Aboriginal Health Equity, Lifelong Health, Women and Kids and Precision Medicine.

Innovative research teams investigating artificial intelligence, machine learning, health informatic and health data analytics will also operate within the Bragg Centre, as will businesses from across the health, biomed and pharmaceutical industries.

Opportunities to have a presence within the Bragg Centre are still available. For more information visit Commercial & General.


What is SAHMRI?

SAHMRI is South Australia’s flagship independent not-for-profit health and medical research institute. It is home to around 700 medical researchers searching for answers to the biggest health issues facing society today – cancers, diabetes, Aboriginal health equity, pregnancy and perinatal health, dementias, mental health and wellbeing, heart disease and chronic pain.

Learn more about SAHMRI here.

Who is involved in the development and construction of the Australian Bragg Centre?

The Australian Bragg Centre was designed by Woods Bagot, the same architectural firm responsible for the iconic SAHMRI building next door.

Commercial & General is managing the project and has engaged Lendlease as the builder.

The building is owned by Dexus.

The Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research, located across the three underground levels of the ABC building, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SAHMRI.

The project has been supported by grants from both the South Australian and Federal Governments.


How big is the Australian Bragg Centre?

The building will provide 32,000 square metres of space across 15 levels – 12 above ground and three below ground. The three below ground levels will be home to the Australian Bragg Centre for Proton Therapy and Research.

How much will the Australian Bragg Centre cost to build?

Construction of the building will cost in excess of $500 million, funded through an innovative partnership between the private sector and Federal and State Governments.

The project will support around 1000 during the construction phase and generate around $1 billion in economic activity.