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Boron Neutron Capture Therapy Back in Limelight After Successful Trials

Saverio Altieri from the University of Pavia in Italy presents promising clinical results of Boron Neutron Capture Therapy. (Photo: A. Green/IAEA)

A cancer treatment involving irradiated boron isotopes has been explored as a therapeutic option for several decades but with very little clinical success. But thanks to recent advances in technology, it is now seeing renewed interest after successful clinical trials to treat certain types of cancer, namely melanoma of the skin, parotid cancer and head and neck cancer. Patients with brain tumours known as Malignant Glioma who were treated with Boron Neutron Capture Therapy in combination with standard radiation therapy survived significantly longer than patients who received standard therapy only.

The technology was showcased today at the IAEA’s General Conference side event called ‘Recent Advances in Boron Neutron Capture Therapy Using Research Reactors and Accelerators.’

“Recent advances have ushered Boron Neutron Capture Therapy into a new phase of optimism with high success rates in different types of cancers,” said Joao Osso, Head of the IAEA Radioisotope Products and Radiation Technology Section. “It is perhaps time to re-examine the current status of this therapy as a promising treatment option and to ponder upon the future role that it could play, focusing in particular on the development of new boron compounds and effective neutron sources generated in accelerators.”

Cancer patients undergoing treatment are given a boron-based reagent, which is a substance often injected intravenously and aimed to accumulate in cancer cells. The therapy is based on the nuclear reaction that takes place when the stable isotopes of the boron reagent (boron-10) are hit by a beam of neutrons. This reaction produces two types of radioactive particles that can carry out targeted killing of cancer cells.

Renewed Interest, Increased Cooperation

Recent advances in research and clinical applications of Boron Neutron Capture Therapy have prompted the IAEA to provide increased support in the field. The Agency and Okayama University in Japan are working on developing a research and education partnership in the field.

“We hope to contribute to cultivating human resources in this field around the world,” said Kiyoshi Morita, President of Okayama University.

The side event today at the General Conference highlighted the current status of the therapy through presentations from researchers on the successful use of new, more effective boron compounds in treatment and subsequent therapy with neutron beams from accelerators and research reactors. One remarkable treatment was presented by Saverio Altieri from the University of Pavia in Italy. His group performed the first thermal neutron irradiation on an isolated liver of a patient back in 2001 with outstanding results.