Prof Karen Kirkby

Richard Rose Chair in Proton Therapy Phy

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Professor of Proton Therapy Physics - This is a joint post between the University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital , Karen is responsible for developing a programme of international leading proton research and innovation to deliver direct patient benefits. This goes from basic research, through pre-clinical and translational research to clinical trials.

Chair of National Proton Physics Research and Implementation Group

Chair Work Stream 4 for NCRI Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research (CTRad) Working Group



Karen Kirkby took up a post in Proton Therapy Physics in Manchester, England, UK in January 2015.  This post is funded by the University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital and is to lead the proton research in Manchester.  This will develop a research portfolio around the NHS funded (£125M) clinical proton facility at The Christie. Funding from The Christie Charity (£6M) has funded a research room to accompany the clinical facility.

The research aims to address the key scientific and technological challenges for proton therapy.  These involve developing models that enable the proton dose to be biologically optimised to the tumour and its microenvironment.  It also looks at options for proton range verification and determination of stopping powers.  Other areas of interest involve how to image the tumour and compensate for organ motion and bring all of these factors in to the next generation of proton treatment planning software.

All of this research benefits from having the research room in the Christie PBT centre.  This room occupies the 4th gantry sace but instead of a gantry consists of beamlines and an engineering scanning nozzle which enables the proton beam to be scanned so that it emulates a beam exiting the nozzle in a clinical gantry.  At the end of the beamline, purpose built interchangeable research modules allow different experiments to be undertaken. 

Karen's interest in proton therapy dates back to the early 2000s where she led a programme funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for a  Network on Applications of High Energy Ion Beams.  This built a community which started to make the case for proton therapy in the UK.  This Network was rated as outstanding by its international referees.  It also led to a collaboration to build a vertical microbeam capable of irradiating cells, with sub-micron precision, with precisely counted numbers of ions.  This facility was funded by a prestigious grant from The Wolfson Foundation and was built at the EPSRC National Ion Beam Centre at the University of Surrey where Karen was prior to her appointment at Manchester.

Karen's interest in Ion Beams and their applications spans over 30 years and developed from an interest in radiation damage in  materials into the field of radiation damage in living cells and tissues and its application to advanced radiotherapy.  In the mid 2000 she was involved in 2 projects funded by Research Councils UK aimed at developing next generation accelerators, one LIBRA used laser accelerators and the other CONFORM led to the development of an electron NS-FFAG and a design study of an FFAG based around protons.  These two grants went on to provide the basis for a successful application to EPSRC for a Centre for Doctoral Training Centre in Applications of Next Generation Accelerators.

Karen worked with colleagues at Surrey to develop the Ion Beam Centre at Surrey into an internationally recognised centre of excellence in the applications of ion beams.  She has international collaborations with the Medical Applications group at CERN and sits on their collaboration board.  She also works closely with the Acoustics and Ionising radiation division at the National Physical Laboratory and Chairs the PPRIG (Proton Physics Research and Implementation Group) .  She is also a member of Work Stream 4 for NCRI Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research (CTRad) Working Group

Karen has a keen interest in doctoral training she coordinates a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (MCITN) SPRITE (and has been involved in a number of successful MCITN dating back to 2000 (CELLION, PARTNER, ENTERVISION, SPRITE).  While at Surrey she set up the Graduate Institute was Associate Dean for the Postgraduate Researchers.  She is also Academic Director of an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training.

At Surrey she was Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, where she was successful in bidding for Surrey's EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account (£3.85m) Impact Acceleration Accounts (£1.3m) and small equipment grant (£500k) she was also involved in the successful bid for the management of the National Physical Laboratory and developed the concept behind its Posgraduate Institute. In addition she developed her own funding portfolio and research group.

Karen has published over 175 peer reviewed journals including 2 in Nature.  She has also written for popular science magazines and newspapers.


BSc Chemistry and Geochemistry University of Leicester

PhD Optical Properties of Ore Minerals Natural History Museum

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Institute of Physics

External positions

Honorary Post, The Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

12 Jan 201514 May 2026

Areas of expertise

Biology, Medicine and Health (BMH) Domains


  • proton therapy, radiotherapy

Education / academic qualifications

  • 1987 - Doctor of Philosophy, Optical Studies of the polished surfaces of some ore minerals, Natural History Museum (1981 - 1984)
  • 1981 - Bachelor of Science, Chemistry and Geochemistry, University of Leicester (1978 - 1981)

Related information


Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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