8 May 2024 Update:

In light of community response and support, we are no longer at risk of needing to shut down TOPAS MC Inc. resources. In particular, we can now assure users that the web site, code repository, documentation site and user forum will remain in place.
Funding is still being sought to reach our larger goals of providing ongoing world-class support.

29 April 2024

Support for the TOPAS project is in crisis. This message is to alert you to an urgent issue and to ask for your help. Unless we can identify new funding sources over the next few months, all of the user support services operated by the TOPAS non-profit will be frozen or shut down - including the web site, the new user lectures, the code repository and the user forum. Our code is open source, available from our downloads page, so our users will never lose access to the source code. But we need funding to continue providing all the other services that have made TOPAS such a success.




The TOPAS Tool for Particle Simulation had its first public release in 2012. Since then, TOPAS has become something powerful and rare: A widely-shared, user-extensible scientific software tool enabled by a vibrant collaborative community. While each of us apply TOPAS to our own unique project, from simulating an entirely new cancer therapy or imaging system to performing patient-specific simulations to reduce radiotherapy side effects, we've also formed a community that accelerate our work through collaboration, sharing parameter files, sharing extensions and helping each other.


Over two NCI R01 grants and then five years of NCI ITCR funding, we grew to 2773 users at 674 institutions in 70 countries. Yes, I individually met and counted every one of you. The main TOPAS publication will soon hit 1000 citations in Google Scholar – proof that TOPAS enables extensive and varied cancer solutions. We are a major NCI ITCR success story.


The next step for TOPAS was to put us on a path to long-term sustainment. My focus has been to secure funding to provide world-class support, provide an ever-improving kernel (the central part of the code), provide timely new installables (staying up to date with Geant4 and operating systems), deepen our documentation, automate our build and testing systems, and provide enhanced pathways for you to collaborate with each other.



Funding Status


The NCI ITCR grants program specifically describes opportunities for software sustainment. Especially as TOPAS has been a major ITCR success story, there seemed to be a viable path through ITCR for a one more grant to set us up for long-term sustainment.


Yet one year ago, the proposal I developed along with the original TOPAS co-authors did not succeed on peer review. Despite the track record of our team and our collective ideas for improvement and sustainment, neither the proposal, nor the breadth of our user base, nor the dozen strong letters of support from a wide variety of community members made sufficient impact. Long-time users will have seen the sad effect of this loss over the last year. Where we previously had a vigorous development program and outstanding user support, last year saw no software updates and only very limited user support. But I still had hope to try again.


I developed an entirely new proposal to ITCR, with a new set of co-authors. This proposal went all-in on core support, enhanced extensibility and empowering the community. The proposal represented everything I believe about how a user-extensible, highly collaborative software research tool should be aligned for long-term sustainment. We spent many months to submit the most thoughtful plan possible, accompanied by a dozen even more powerful and thoughtfully written letters of support from a wide variety of stakeholders. Yet, again, peer review went badly.


I no longer see any chance to support this community through NCI grants. The process seems incapable of recognizing our value. The effort to prepare a new proposal is out of scale with the likelihood of success. The time lost waiting on each review cycle—basically one year per cycle – is untenable when users need updates and support right now.


The resulting crisis is not unique to TOPAS - the sustainment of research software is an unsolved puzzle. Almost every research software project is suffering. Some projects carry on with only volunteer effort, but that is a band-aid, not a cure. Research software should be funded, both to retain the expertise of those who develop it and to accelerate the science that relies on it. Imagine how much better your creativity and progress would be if critical updates were made on time and any user question got an immediate answer from an expert? But it seems the only thing harder than funding a new research tool such as TOPAS is funding the sustainment of an already-successful tool.



Next steps


If no new funding solutions emerge over the next few months, all services of the TOPAS MC non-profit will be frozen or shut down.


But first, I'd like to invite you to help me cast the widest possible net for substantial new funders. The source could be governmental, private foundations, corporate sponsorships or individuals. But funding needs to be substantial - enough to do real work. Please reach out to me through private email if you have ideas or can provide connections to someone who might fund this work.


Enabling the TOPAS community has been the most rewarding part of my career in science. It has been an honor to meet you, respond to your needs, see and support your accomplishments with TOPAS. But the past year, unable to respond to your needs due to lack of funding, has been very painful. This situation can not continue. I sincerely hope we can open new doors for TOPAS funding to continue our important work.


All the best,