Brussels, 05 Oct 2004
A groundbreaking anti-cancer treatment, known as Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT), has moved from phase I to phase II study, researchers announced at a press conference in Amsterdam organised by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).
However, the scientists admitted that BNCT, which offers a unique opportunity for a highly selective, targeted cancer therapy based on techniques involving nuclear physics and advanced oncology, still requires further research.
A tumour-targeting form of radiotherapy, BNCT has the potential to selectively kill tumour cells embedded in normal tissue, while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. It is hoped BNCT research will eventually develop novel cancer treatments that prolong the lives of patients with advanced brain tumours.
Currently, this innovative treatment can only be performed at nuclear research reactors, and is being developed in Europe at the High Flux Reactor (HFR) at the JRC's Institute for Energy in Petten, the Netherlands. The work funded under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), and is being carried out by a research partnership involving university hospitals in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Japan and the US.
'This is the first ever medical treatment taking place in a nuclear reactor and is therefore a strange environment not only for the patients but also for the medical staff,' Dr A Witty from the University of Essen, Germany, told the press conference.
BNCT is based on the ability of the non-radioactive Boron Isotope 10 B to react with a neutron beam to produce two highly energetic particles. The particles have a high biological effect that result in lethal damage to cancerous cells while producing a minimum effect on normal cells.
Until now, patients have undergone treatment at the HFR for glioblastoma, the most aggressive of the primary brain tumours. 'Although none of them has survived,' said Professor Dr Wolfgang Sauerwein 'the clinical stage I trials established that the method we are using is safe, and defined safety-limits and dosage.'
Patients, explained Dr Sauerwein, were chosen because they were in the advanced stages of the illness and had tried conventional radiotherapy without success. Having proven the safety of the method, Dr Sauerwein and his team is now working on the effectiveness of the technique as well as drug development and the elaboration of international standards for safety and quality.