Helium Ions Treat Cancer In Children With Better Precision
In the past few years, pioneering work in the area of radiotherapy has seen the use of heavy ions like carbon and oxygen for non-invasive treatment of cancer. Now, for the first time, researchers from Vienna have shown that helium ions can also be used in radiation therapy to successfully treat tumors without damaging other healthy organs. Their research, were presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO), shows the advantages of using helium ions for radiotherapy rather than protons — a currently advanced form of therapy in and of itself.
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"Particle beam therapy involving protons or carbon ions has advantages over conventional radiotherapy," said Hermann Fuchs, a PhD student at the Medical University of Vienna, in a statement. "Helium ions may represent another kind of particle that can improve radiotherapy treatment. Due to their increased mass, spreading of the beam is reduced by a factor of two as compared with protons. Moreover helium ions have an increased biological effectiveness at the end of their range."
Other heavy ions like carbon are very effective in destroying cancer cells — the ions damage their DNA structure. But large uncertainties common with these ions can be reduced by using lighter ions like helium. "Helium ions reside in the low Linear Energy Transfer (LET) area," Fuchs said in the statement. "LET is a physical quantity describing how much energy of a particle is deposited at a given range, and this measure is important when looking at the biological effects of therapy."
Being precise when targeting the tumor and reducing damage to the surrounding healthy organs is very important when treating pediatric cancer cases. A wider area treated with even a low dose can lead to the development of secondary cancers. Since children are more susceptible to radiation side effects, and have a potentially longer lifespan, it is paramount to ensure that therapies are targeted as accurately as possible to the tumor without harming susceptible organs located nearby.
To show how helium ions could be used in radiotherapy, the researchers first identified the optimal dose of helium ions. A treatment plan was then calculated based on the dose. Ten pediatric patients, five with neuroblastoma (tumors arising in cells of the hormonal and nervous system), and five with Hodgkin's lymphoma (a cancer of the white blood cells), received the treatment.
"After three years of extensive research and validation efforts, we were able to produce a treatment planning algorithm that enabled us to investigate the possibilities for using helium ion therapy in children treated with low dose radiation," Fuchs said in the statement. "We would now like to investigate its potential in patients being treated with higher doses, for example, those with brain tumors. The good results that have been achieved so far warrant the verification of the model in order to investigate the real clinical potential of helium ions. In the long term, clinical trials of this therapy will be needed to substantiate the effects of our treatment planning model."
"Particle beam therapy has already advanced care and treatment options for cancer patients. We hope that the use of helium ions may help to bring about further improvements."
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