Release Date: November 15, 2006 | Last Updated Date: November 15, 2006
When Stanford physicists began building linear electron accelerators for particle physics research almost sixty years ago, they did not know that their research could be adapted for widely available medical treatment. Now, one in six Americans will eventually come face-to-face with a particle accelerator during their lifetimes, as the primary means of cancer radiotherapy. The world’s leading producer of these radiation treatment systems, Varian Medical Systems Inc., has deep roots in the Stanford physics and electrical engineering departments going back six decades. The company’s original goal was to take scientific and technological advances at the university and develop them into marketable products. The idea that linear accelerators might be adapted for cancer therapy arose at a lunch meeting between a physician and a Varian cofounder in 1950; today, Varian is a multibillion-dollar corporation whose systems treat over a million cancer patients annually.