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Radiation damages the DNA of cancer cells, slowing their progression or killing them.
However, this is a slow process; radiation doesn’t destroy cancer cells right away – sometimes it takes weeks treatment to damage the cells’ DNA enough to kill them.
A further reason why radiation treatment can take several weeks is that the therapy is most likely to succeed when cancer cells grow and divide into new cells.
Spreading the treatment over a long period of time increases the chance that the radiation will target cancer cells when they are in a growth phase.
Finally, administering radiation in small, daily doses helps protect healthy cells by giving them more time to recover.
But new research suggests there may be a way to deliver radiation at record speed while protecting healthy tissue.
The innovative technique is called FLASH, or ultra-high dose rate radiotherapy, and according to previous research, it uses electrons to minimize damage to healthy tissue while targeting tumors.
Importantly, FLASH reportedly achieves these effects in less than a second, which could exponentially shorten the duration of radiation sessions.
The new study shows how using proton radiation instead of electrons or photons, along with other technical tweaks, could turn FLASH into a powerful tool that can deliver radiation in milliseconds.
dr. James M. Metz, director of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center and chair of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, is the co-senior and corresponding author of the new study, which appears in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics.
As the authors explain in their paper, previous research has suggested that FLASH therapy kills cancer cells while protecting normal tissue in the brain, lungs, intestines, and intestines. skin cancer.
But is there a dose threshold for FLASH therapy? And can scientists deliver FLASH much faster while preserving its protective effects and efficacy against cancer?
Previous studies in mice have shown that increasing the radiation rate of electron radiotherapy may protect against cognitive decline during brain irradiation. And in other mouse models — of pulmonary fibrosis and gastrointestinal radiation syndrome — increasing electron radiation protected healthy tissue.
So the researchers behind the current study hypothesized that using protons instead of electrons in FLASH therapy would make it possible to deliver a higher dose of radiation while preserving its protective effects.
Furthermore, proton therapy is generally considered safer and more effective than electron therapy.
To test their hypothesis and “to investigate the biological effects of [FLASH] beams,” the researchers designed and built a radiotherapy device that could deliver FLASH or standard radiation dose rates “using double-scattered protons in a […] CT-defined geometry.”
The researchers used a “single pencil beam” to create a “double scattering system,” circumventing a difficulty that had prevented previous research teams from creating the necessary radiation dose, or field size.
Next, the team applied the new device in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer and found that it successfully targeted pancreatic cancer flank tumors while reducing gastrointestinal damage.
“We have been able to develop specialized systems in the research space to generate FLASH doses, to demonstrate that we can control the proton beam and to conduct a large number of experiments to help us understand the implications of FLASH radiation. which we simply could not have. done with a more traditional research setup,” explains Dr. Metz out.
“This is the first time anyone has published findings demonstrating the feasibility of using protons – rather than electrons – to generate FLASH doses with an accelerator currently used for clinical treatments.”
dr. James M. Metz
Next, the researchers plan to design a device that would deliver FLASH to humans in this way.
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