Shortly after the discovery of the neutron in 1932, some scientists recognized the potential of boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) as a cancer treatment. But despite decades of research, the problem of finding a delivery agent that would more effectively target the tumor without harming surrounding tissue persisted. Researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) may finally have found a solution.

BNCT traditionally involves injecting tumors with the non-radioactive boron-10 isotope capture agent that is then radiated with a beam of epithermal neutrons that interact with the capture agent to produce a biologically destructive nuclear caption reaction. This results in the formation of boron 11 with the release of lethal radiation in the form of alpha particles (helium-4) and lithium ions that kill the tumor. Although numerous clinical studies have demonstrated the safety of BNCT, the challenge has been finding more tumor-selective boron delivery agents.

Taking advantage of the fact that cancer cells absorb more materials than normal cells, MU Curators’ Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne and his team got cancer cells to take in and store a boron chemical designed by Hawthorne. When it captures a neutron, the boron chemical releases lithium and helium atoms that penetrate the cancer cell and destroy it from the inside without harming neighboring healthy cells.

Hawthorne and his team tested this new form of radiation therapy on mice, which resulted in successful remission of cancer.

“A wide variety of cancers can be attacked with our BNCT technique,” Hawthorne said. “The technique worked excellently in mice. We are ready to move on to trials in larger animals, then people. However, before we can start treating humans, we will need to build suitable equipment and facilities. When it is built, MU will have the first radiation therapy of this kind in the world.”

The team’s study, entitled “Boron neutron capture therapy demonstrated in mice bearing EMT 6 tumors following selective delivery of boron by rationally designed liposomes,” was recently published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Source: University of Missouri