A new form of radiation therapy successfully put cancer into remission in mice. This innovative treatment produced none of the harmful side effects of conventional chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments. Clinical trials in humans could begin soon after funding is secured.
“Since the 1930s, scientists have sought success with a cancer treatment known as boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT),” said M. Frederick Hawthorne, PhD, of the University of Missouri. He explained that BNCT works by taking advantage of a cancer cell’s biology utilizing nanochemistry.
Cancer cells grow faster than normal cells and in the process absorb more materials than normal cells. Hawthorne’s team took advantage of that fact by getting cancer cells to take in and store a boron chemical designed by Hawthorne. When those boron-infused cancer cells were exposed to neutrons, a subatomic particle, the boron atom shattered and selectively tore apart the cancer cells, sparing neighboring healthy cells.
The physical properties of boron made Hawthorne’s technique possible. A particular form of boron will split when it captures a neutron, and will release lithium, helium, and energy. Like pool balls careening around a billiards table, the helium and lithium atoms penetrate the cancer cell and destroy it from the inside without harming the surrounding tissues.
“A wide variety of cancers can be attacked with our BNCT technique,” Hawthorne said. “The technique worked excellently in mice. We are ready to move on to trials in larger animals, then people. However, before we can start treating humans, we will need to build suitable equipment and facilities. When it is built, MU will have the first radiation therapy of this kind in the world.”
This study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2013; doi:10.1073/pnas.1303437110).