MIT, hospital begin cancer trials

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and MIT have begun advanced clinical trials of a cancer treatment that could selectively target malignant tissue while reducing the likelihood of injury to healthy tissue.

The trials are open to patients suffering from glioblastoma multiforme (GBM, a virulent form of brain cancer), melanoma that has spread to the central nervous system, and melanoma in the extremities.

The trials are the first to use a new MIT facility dedicated to the treatment. The facility, the only one in the United States, is considered the best of its kind in the world.

All three cancers are characterized by malignant cells that have proven difficult to eradicate with conventional forms of radiation.

"For these cancers, conventional radiation therapy or surgery is not able to destroy all the tumor cells without unacceptable damage to healthy tissues," said Professor Otto K. Harling of the Department of Nuclear Engineering. The new treatment, known as neutron capture therapy (NCT), "has the potential to destroy tumor cells while sparing adjacent healthy cells."

Patients who are candidates for NCT clinical trials may have already undergone surgery for removal of as much of the tumor as possible.

The patient is given an intravenous dose of a compound containing boron-10, known as the "capture drug." He or she is then placed on a couch for positioning in the epithermal neutron beam, which is specially designed to penetrate at least halfway into the brain to reach deep-seated tumors. A device called a patient collimator--reminiscent of the device used for dental X-rays--directs the beam toward the desired region. To be effective, the neutron beam must be very pure to deliver the maximum possible dose to the tumor.

Five years ago, the exposure period lasted a few hours. Today, irradiations can be completed in a few minutes, minimizing discomfort. Delivery of the boron

Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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