Cancer patients may someday be able to get a full course of radiation therapy in less than a second instead of undergoing treatment over the course of several weeks. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have taken the first steps to make this a reality.
In a new relationship published today in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics, Penn's team details the use of proton radiation to generate the dosage needed to theoretically give a cancer patient the full course of radiation in one quick treatment.
It is an experimental paradigm known as Flash radiation therapy, and could represent a radical change for the world of oncology in the future. In this study, the researchers also found that Flash radiation therapy has the same effect on tumors as traditional photon radiation. In addition, it saves healthy tissues thanks to the shorter exposure time.
"This is the first time that anyone has published results that demonstrate the feasibility of using protons and not electrons", said the senior author of the study James M. Metz.
Metz noted that other research teams have generated similar doses using electrons, which do not penetrate deep enough into the body to be clinically useful as a cancer treatment for internal cancers.
Other groups have tried the conventional photon approach, but currently available treatment devices lack the ability to generate the required dosage.
This study shows that, with technical modifications, the accelerators currently available for protons can obtain Flash doses with the current biological effects.
Flash radiation therapy, the stages of development
The key to the Penn team was the ability to generate the dose with protons. Even in that area, researchers had to specially develop the tools necessary to measure radiation doses effectively and accurately, because standard detectors were rapidly saturated due to the high levels of radiation. It is thanks to the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, which includes a dedicated research room to perform experiments like these, that Flash radiotherapy has been experimented with.
"We were able to develop specialized systems in the research room to generate Flash doses. An activity that we simply could not do with a more traditional research setup."he said Metz.
The researchers said they are already starting to optimize how Flash radiation therapy will be used. First for clinical trials, and then to translate the skill from the research room into a clinical space.
The definitive step? Designing the Flash radiation therapy system for hospitals.