IAEA teams with Japanese university on boron neutron capture therapy R&D

July 1, 2020, 7:11AMNuclear News

The accelerator-based BNCT system under construction at Nagoya University, shows the electrostatic proton accelerator (on the left) and beam transport line toward the neutron production target (on the right). Photo: Nagoya University

The International Atomic Energy Agency has signed an agreement with Japan’s Okayama University that provides a three-year framework for enhanced cooperation in boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT), the IAEA announced on June 24. BNCT is a noninvasive therapeutic technique for treating invasive malignant tumors.

How it works: BNCT uses neutrons to generate energetic alpha particles that destroy cells within the tumor, but not in the surrounding tissue. Recent breakthroughs in accelerator technologies are enabling the wider use of this targeted technique.

Patients undergoing BNCT are given a boron-based reagent, often injected intravenously, that accumulates in cancer cells. When a stable boron isotope (boron-10) of the reagent is hit by a beam of neutrons in the cancer cells, it captures neutrons, causing a nuclear reaction and the creation of energetic helium (alpha particle) and lithium nuclei.

The nuclei deposit their energy within the tumor cell, causing damage and cell death. The tumor is targeted by selectively introducing the boron reagent into tumor cells, not by aiming the beam at the cells, as in other radiation therapies in which healthy tissue may be damaged. The high biological effectiveness of this procedure and the precisely targeted cell damage are major advantages of BNCT in clinical therapy.

They said it: “BNCT is a cutting-edge cancer therapy,” said Hirofumi Makino, president of Okayama University. “It is a happy marriage of the modern nuclear physics and up-to-date pharmaceutical cell biology. However, we should not forget the long history of struggle for developing this difficult medical technology. We, the researchers of Okayama University, would like to cultivate a further step of BNCT technologies together with IAEA.”

What’s next: The expected areas of cooperation include the following:

Capacity building and human resource development through the establishment of e-learning courses.

The organization of technical events, including a forthcoming IAEA technical meeting in July to assess the current development and usage of the BNCT technique, with an emphasis on the use of compact accelerator-based neutron sources. Registration for this virtual event is accessible here.

The development of a global database of BNCT facilities for information exchange and the sharing of good practices among stakeholders internationally.

The exchange of experience and best practices, with an emphasis on accelerator and target technologies, neutron instrumentation and dosimetry, preparation and evaluation of boron-containing compounds, and pharmacological aspects of BNCT.

The preparation and release of an IAEA publication on the current status of neutron capture therapy, including updates relevant to progress made in BNCT using compact accelerator-driven neutron sources.

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