Radiotherapy is currently one of the best treatments for cancer, but it is far from the perfect solution,media New Atlas reported. It can take weeks or even months, during which healthy cells often become unfortunate collateral damage. But what if the entire treatment can end in a second? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have now proved it possible.
With the right tools, killing cancer cells will become less difficult. For example, they can be killed relatively easily by radiation or drugs – but the problem is that some therapies often also kill the surrounding healthy cells. Because radiotherapy can take weeks, healthy cells are more likely to be infected, and even if they destroy cancer, they can lead to a variety of health problems.
This is where FLASH radiotherapy works. This emerging form of treatment involves giving patients a similar amount of radiation within a second than normal for a few weeks. Previous experiments have shown that the effect on the cancer itself is essentially the same, but the collateral damage to healthy tissue is greatly reduced.
For the new study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that by changing the type of elementary particles used, they could make FLASH radiation therapy more effective. Usually, electrons are the particles of choice for this method, but they do not penetrate deep into the body. This means they are only really useful for shallower types of cancer such as skin cancer. In this case, the researchers used protons and showed that linear accelerators already used in hospitals could be used to produce these particles. Because they can enter the body more deeply, they should be more useful for a wider range of tumor types.
The team tested mice with pancreatic tumors and found that the method did inhibit the growth of cancer, with roughly the same effectiveness as conventional radiotherapy. Importantly, however, proton FLASH therapy reduces healthy cell loss and does not cause intestinal fibrosis, a common side effect of radiation therapy.
James M. Metz, co-lead author of the study, said: “This is the first published study to demonstrate that the use of protons rather than electrons to produce FLASH doses and the use of acceleraters currently used in clinical treatment is feasible. “
Researchers are currently working on how to convert the therapy into clinical trials. This includes designing a system that can transmit proton radiation to humans.
The study was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, physics.