Single session radiation therapy moves one step closer

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ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron has been working on an initiative its says could substantially improve radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients.

A world-first study has shown that the newly-developed microbeam radiation therapy (MRT) could safely deliver radiation doses up to 20 times higher than is currently standard. 

Led by the Royal Women’s Hospital, RMIT University and the University of Melbourne, the research was undertaken in animal models - paving the way towards the first human trial.

Synchrotron medical beamline scientist, Dr Daniel Hausermann, said the research highlights the very real benefits that nuclear medicine can bring to the community.

“ANSTO’s Synchrotron has enabled this exciting research, which has the potential to dramatically improve radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients,” said Dr Hausermann.

“We all know someone who has been through radiotherapy to treat cancer and we know how hard that can be, both physiologically, and also emotionally as the treatments stretch out over time.

“This collaborative Synchrotron research could lead to dramatically improved outcomes for cancer patients, which has the potential to avoid the side-effects that come with radiation therapy.”

Unlike conventional radiation therapy, which irradiates an entire area, killing both the tumour and damaging healthy cells, MRT is delivered in wafer-thin parallel beams of radiation.

Lloyd Smyth, lead researcher and radiation therapist from the Royal Women’s Hospital, said the study published in the Nature Group journal, Scientific Reports, was a step toward more effective, less intrusive cancer treatment. 

Mr Smyth said the new, more intense radiation treatment, delivered by ANSTO’s Synchrotron, allowed healthy tissues to tolerate much higher doses and to recover.

“Our study was focused on understanding what dose of MRT could be safely given without harming the recipient,” said Mr Smyth.

“We found that safe doses are remarkably high, and at least 10 to 20 times as high as doses usually considered safe in the clinic today.

“I am optimistic for the future of MRT to improve the quality of life for those suffering from this disease and reduce the time they spend receiving treatment.

“We are seeing a strange new paradigm, where the healthy cells in between the radiation beams are tolerating the treatment, while tumours lose their structure and die.”

The first trials are likely to involve patients with recurring brain, head and neck cancers. Advanced breast cancer patients could also benefit from MRT in the future.