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KTH alum Sandra Muhr develops a toolbox for cancer treatments at CERN

Transfers legendary particle accelerator technology to healthcare

 Sandra Muhr står framför en accelerator på CERN
Published Oct 25, 2022

Sandra Muhr, 27, is playing a part in the industrialisation of future cancer treatments at CERN, the world’s biggest particle physics laboratory located just outside of Geneva, Switzerland.
“The mission includes transferring and implementing research results for the benefit of society” she says.

Just two years after obtaining her M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering and Management at KTH, Sandra Muhr is working on technology transfer from the legendary particle accelerators at the CERN  laboratory outside Geneva. She’s part of the Knowledge Transfer group.

“At CERN, the knowledge and technologies from conducting fundamental research can be used not only within particle physics, but also for societal benefits. In the domain of cancer treatments, for example, we’re tailoring accelerators and superconducting magnets for the needs of particle therapy machines,” says Muhr.

The aim is to develop cutting-edge tools against cancer tumours. The treatment is based on the use of accelerators, similar to the ones currently operating at CERN for fundamental research.
In an accelerator, protons and ions can be accelerated to such high speeds that they can penetrate human tissue and destroy malignant cells, which is known as hadron therapy.

About Sandra Muhr

Job at CERN: Specialises in medical applications and works for the HITRIplus project. The project is funded by the European Commission and is aimed at the advancement of ion therapy research on cancer treatment with ions heavier than protons.
Background: Swedish-Swiss engineer with family in both countries and a background in Materials Science Engineering. Previously worked in the Swiss compressor industry in canton Bern (Atlas Copco Group), and before that in Sweden on various projects at Scania, Svevia, Beckers Group and IKEA.
Education: B.Sc. in Materials Science Engineering, and a M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering and Management from KTH.

“Conventional cancer therapy uses X-rays consisting of high-energy photons, but the radiation also inevitably damages some of the patient’s healthy tissue. But with proton and ion based treatment technology, the cancerous cells are able to be targeted more precisely, sparing more healthy tissue.” says Muhr.

With the new type of treatment, which uses heavy ions, the local control of very aggressive tumours and lower toxicity offers many advantages over other methods. But hadron therapy is expensive.

With the European Commission’s funding of the HITRIplus  project participating institutions are hoping to reduce the treatment cost and make it more accessible to the general public.
“We want to enable an efficient transfer of the research results to society by industrialising our technology .”

Sandra Muhr’s title is Knowledge Transfer Officer for Medical Applications, and she’s especially focused on transferring knowledge from scientific research to industrial companies. Her role includes identifying promising technical developments, implementing technology transfer routes and building innovation ecosystems.

What convinced you to apply for a job at CERN?
“I was inspired by famous examples of technologies at CERN that found their way into wider society, such as the World Wide Web. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of using CERN’s particle accelerator technology to contribute to societal impact.” 

What do you hope to be working on in ten years’ time?
“I want to work with the technologies of the future in a creative manner, and develop unconventional solutions to solve society’s challenges. At KTH, I learned to quickly understand and adapt to complex technologies, and that has certainly benefitted me here at CERN. It has helped me in my work of transferring our toolbox for cancer treatments onward to future industrialisation.”

Text: Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: CERN

Sandra Muhr’s tips for KTH students who want to realise their dream of working abroad

  • Take chances to learn new languages; it can open up the way you see the world and give you opportunities in your working life. Here in Switzerland there are five official languages and I can speak English, German, Swiss German, Swedish and some French. 
  • Be sure to plan ahead for several possible scenarios. I always have a plan A, a plan B, and even a plan C and D.
  • Demonstrate that you’re goal-oriented and that you’re certain of what you want, so that your job applications are not too general and standardised. I was careful to specify exactly why I wanted to work at CERN, which project group I was interested in, and how I planned to take technological research forward.
  • If you’ve done your homework on the company or organisation before you write your application, the employer will notice the difference and see that you’re genuinely interested in the position. Details make all the difference.
  • You don’t need to be a particle physicist to work at CERN. A wide range of specialisations are needed, CERN hires everything from lawyers to firefighters to materials scientists.
  • A lot of people think you need a doctorate to work here, but that’s not true. Students can even work here while they’re writing their master’s thesis.
  • It’s possible to take a year off between your bachelor’s and master’s degree to work abroad on a project. Be courageous and dare to apply to prestigious places like CERN as well; you can learn on the job.
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Oct 25, 2022