Possible new treatment of cancer less stressful than chemotherapy report


A development which may lead to a cancer treatment which is less stressful to the body than traditional chemotherapy has been reported by a group of US scientists.

The new treatment would focus on cancer cells, making the therapy much less debilitating, according to Prof Frederick Hawthorne, a chemist at the University of California at Los Angeles, who led the research team.

The research, published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed a family of chemicals which could allow doctors to use "boron neutron capture therapy" on cancer patients. Dr Hawthorne explained that this would be less stressful to the body than traditional chemotherapy as it targets only cancer cells and kills them with nuclear fission instead of chemicals which poison.

The development has been welcomed by Dr Michael Moriarty, an Irish cancer specialist, who said that boron therapy was being researched at a number of places worldwide. It was usually used in conjunction with radiotherapy.

"From what I have seen, these new agents appear to be effective on their own bat. They are captured by tumours and, hopefully, destroy them or at the very least damage the tumours. I suspect they have developed new boron compounds more exciting than the ones which exist to date," said Dr Moriarty, a member of the Irish Cancer Society's medical committee.

Dr Hawthorne said it was too early to tell if boron therapy, which faced several years of clinical trials before it could be used publicly, would be more effective than current cancer treatments.

The idea of using boron-based compounds to fight cancer has been around since the 1930s, when scientists discovered that these compounds accumulate in cancerous tumours. However, according to Dr Hawthorne, the newly-discovered family of chemicals was the most effective so far at delivering boron into the nucleus of the cancer cells.

Once there, the boron was "activated" by exposing the cancer cells to a beam of neutrons, producing nuclear fission which destroyed the cells' DNA.

"Boron can be considered something like a landmine because it's just sitting there until something comes along and steps on it," he said. "In this case that something is the neutron. And when it goes off, it destroys whatever happens to be around it."

That capability could make it more attractive than chemotherapy, which damages healthy cells as it kills cancer cells and often leaves a patient feeling ill.

At present, clinical trials are taking place using boron therapy but with less efficient chemicals, said Dr Hawthorne. "The difference is that our stuff goes to the nucleus of the cancer cell. The whole idea is to destroy the cancer cell's DNA."