Medical

New cancer treatment delivers weeks of radiation therapy in a second

New cancer treatment delivers ...
A new form of FLASH radiation therapy, which delivers weeks' worth of radiation in a second to cancer patients, can be performed using existing equipment
A new form of FLASH radiation therapy, which delivers weeks' worth of radiation in a second to cancer patients, can be performed using existing equipment
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A new form of FLASH radiation therapy, which delivers weeks' worth of radiation in a second to cancer patients, can be performed using existing equipment
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A new form of FLASH radiation therapy, which delivers weeks' worth of radiation in a second to cancer patients, can be performed using existing equipment

Radiation therapy is currently our best shot at treating cancer, but it’s far from a perfect solution. It takes a course of weeks or even months, during which time healthy cells often become unfortunate collateral damage. But what if the whole course of treatment could be over in under a second? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have now shown just how this might be feasible.

With the right tools, cancer cells on their own aren’t all that difficult to kill. Radiation or drugs can be administered to kill them off relatively easily – the problem is tumors like to hide in crowds, and whatever weapons we fire at them also tend to hit healthy cells around them. Because radiation therapy takes weeks, there are more opportunities for those healthy cells to be affected, leading to all kinds of health problems even if the cancer is destroyed.

That’s where FLASH radiotherapy comes in. This emerging form of treatment involves giving a patient in one second a similar amount of radiation as they would normally receive over weeks. Previous experiments have shown that the effect on the cancer itself is basically the same, but the collateral damage to healthy tissue is drastically reduced.

For the new study, researchers at Pennsylvania University found that by changing the type of fundamental particle used, they could make FLASH radiotherapy far more effective. Normally, electrons are the particles of choice for this method, but they don’t penetrate very deep into the body. That means they’re only really useful for shallower cancer types such as skin cancer.

In this case the researchers used protons, and showed that linear accelerators already in use in hospitals could be adapted to produce these particles. Since they can pass deeper into the body, they should be more useful against a wider range of tumor types.

The team tested it out on mice with pancreatic flank tumors, and found that the method did inhibit the growth of the cancers with roughly the same effectiveness as regular radiation therapy. Importantly though, the proton FLASH therapy reduced healthy cell loss and didn’t cause intestinal fibrosis, a common side effect of radiation therapy.

“This is the first time anyone has published findings that demonstrate the feasibility of using protons – rather than electrons – to generate FLASH doses, with an accelerator currently used for clinical treatments,” says James M. Metz, co-senior author of the study.

The researchers are currently working on how to translate the treatment to clinical trials. This includes designing a system that can deliver the proton radiation to humans.

The research was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

11 comments
sidmehta
Very promising. How soon can this be in actual use? Millions of people need this. Perhaps the FDA can fast-track this.
Colt12
Goshen Hospital in Indiana has been advertising proton therapy for 3 years now. Northwestern University hospital for about 2 years.
Expanded Viewpoint
Oh PUULLLEEEZE now! More and better burning from the guys and gals whose only treatment modalities are cut, poison and burn?!?! More people die each year from medical "treatments" than anything else!! Talk about having your priorities out of order!!
drBill
Gil Lederman at RSNY has been doing focused beam radiosurgery for >40 years. This is a competitor's blurb, not a breakthrough in my considered opinion. Protons are not inherently more effective. It's the aim, not the caliber of ammo. Good for UP, but atlas should find out about alternatives to allow comparisons with actual patient outcome data, which Dr. Lederman has published.
guzmanchinky
I love hearing about these kinds of breakthroughs. At 50 I'm at that age when you start worrying about this kind of thing...
Eric Blenheim
And then your face falls off.
Rotogizmag
This article seems to have a number of misconceptions. As a physicist working in proton radiation therapy, almost certainly protons are not being considered for flash radiation therapy because it wouldn’t work. Protons have to be energy programmed and guided to treat a cancerous area because proton penetration depth is directly related to proton energy. Therefore a spread of proton energies are required with different energy profiles at each internal cancer volume scanned to an accuracy of 1/2 mm. This can not be done by flash methods. Also linear accelerators are currently not able to accelerate protons even close to needed levels by means of linear accelerators. Electrons are accelerated by linear accelerators but such electrons are never used for direct radiation of any human tissues because electrons can not penetrate human skin to any appreciable extent. Electrons so accelerated are used to collide with physical barriers, frequently composed of metals, wherein such collision causes electron deceleration therefore creating X-ray photo emission under Maxwell’s Equations and these intense xrays are used for current boson therapies (I.e. not protons or electrons). So the goal in flash radiation is to reach much, much much higher electron energies in linear accelerators such that X-ray emission is several orders of magnitude greater than today. That is flash radiation therpy. It’s about 3 to 5 years out.
Robert Hebert
Having recently completed 44 fractions of pencil Proton Beam therapy for contained prostate cancer, and having physically toured & studied each and every piece of equipment in the beam generation, and studying with 5 physicists that built the equipment, and after extensive study & research, I take exception with the premise posited by the researchers & author of this article... Namely, that I understand that the repeated daily fractions of radiation kill cancer cells (which require about 3 days to recover) while allowing healthy cells to survive (which can recover within 24 hours). A single dose overlooks this.
Robert Hebert
In addition... reducing collateral tissue fibrosis is accomplished by accurate (within 1 millimeter) beam placement... 5 mm inaccuracy increases healthy tissue necrosis and patient death by 50%.
Rotogizmag
OK, one more comment. I’ve researched this further and the proposed method is very poorly defined. The basic idea has been covered under “hypofraction” for proton therapy, which means delivering many, many doses at one time. This is certainly possible with large ion therpy, I.e. carbon ion therapy. But high dosage protons in themselves is just lacking in further details. The details are everything. Best I can now see they want to deliver total proton treatment, which can take 1 month normally, in 1 second. That’s borderline crazy. So prove it. They are at least 5 years out from doing that and their current explanations do not make scientific sense. So prove it.