Last year, in another publication, I detailed the refinement of a couple of breakthrough advances in cancer treatment. One was primarily an American scientific innovation, Crispr cas9 – which is the most prominent among the gene editing technologies. The other was a branch of the Heavy Ion technology, gaining prominence in Asia and Europe, but until now, barely in the game here – Carbon Ion Radiotherapy.
National Compass plans a new series of articles on promising cancer treatment trends such as charged particle therapy employing Heavy Ions, but we thought it would be valuable to share with our readers a little background information on Carbon Ion as a foundation.
Carbon Ion Radiotherapy (CIRT)
A cutting edge working unit that refined the technology – Toshiba’s Rotating Gantry with Superconducting Magnets, was commissioned by Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) in August of 2013 and came on line in December of 2015.
Another similar unit, deployed a few years earlier, is in operation at the University of Heidelberg (Germany).
Amazingly, even though Carbon Ion is the evolutionary product of American research pioneers, America will be a late adopter of its applications to cancer treatment. In Japan, over 15,000 cancer patients have already been treated by heavy ion radiotherapy (as of May 2016).
The concept of Carbon Ion Radiotherapy (C-ion RT) goes all the way back to the late 1930’s in America. Nuclear medicine reseacher John H. Lawrence (pictured below), pioneered the first cancer therapy with radioactive isotopes artificially produced with a particle accelerator.
Research into Carbon-ion continued at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) in Livermore, California formally beginning in 1975. In light of this, it’s ironic that it was not until 1994 that clinical trials with early versions of the technology commenced under the direction of NIRS, with the advent of the Heavy Ion Medical Accelerator in Chiba, Japan.
The closest that non-conventional radiotherapy has come to the United States, is the use of a Proton device at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Redlands, California.
In comparison, Carbon molecules, which are 12 times heavier than the Hydrogen molecules of Proton beams are regarded by scientists as up to 20 times more efficient at precisely targeting and destroying cancerous tissues than proton radiotherapy, which means patients experience much fewer exposures to radiotherapy and the duration of the treatment is considerably shorter.
Gamma versus Heavy Ions
The below graphic illustrates not only the inferior nature of Gamma (X-Ray) radiation in cancer treatment, but how even Proton treatment, which was marginally more effective, will soon be outmoded by Heavy Ions:
In one representative peer reviewed research study, “The Emerging Role of Carbon-Ion Radiotherapy”, by Daniel K. Ebner and Tadashi Kameda, the authors write in their abstract:
Carbon-ion radiotherapy (CIRT) has progressed rapidly in technological delivery, indications, and efficacy. Owing to a focused dose distribution in addition to high linear energy transfer and subsequently high relative biological effect, CIRT is uniquely able to target otherwise untreatable hypoxic and radioresistant disease while opening the door for substantially hypofractionated treatment of normal and radiosensitive disease. CIRT has increasingly garnered international attention and is nearing the tipping point for international adoption.
It’s valuable to explain the significant difference with Carbon Ion procedures as contrasted with what the majority of patients have experienced with conventional radiation treatment.
Conventional radiation treatment utilizes X-ray beams and this is the application of beam therapy that along with chemo-therapy, induces fear in patients who must undergo it. X-ray, discovered in 1895, in the process of attempting to destroy cancerous cells, produces considerable collateral damage to otherwise healthy, non-carcinogen ridden cells.
It is the imprecise nature of X-ray that led researchers to seek more effective and considerably less invasive and destructive means of delivering radiation to cancer cells.
Advantages of Carbon Ion
Compared to X-Ray – Carbon-ion, which accelerates Carbon ions at about 70% of the speed of light, is a high linear energy transfer (LET) process that targets increased radiation to a tumor while drastically reducing irradiation to adjacent normal tissue.
Heavy Ions such as Carbon penetrate the surface tissue of the body, enabling CIRT to be dramatically more able to kill cancer cells deep in the body, something that none of the other treatments have been able to accomplish safely and reliably.
In 2003, the Japanese Ministry of Health conducted an assessment study of the previous 9 years of clinical trials. It concluded that all cancer victims should be permitted access to the C-ion RT technology based on its dramatic improvements over conventional radiotherapy.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), Medicare and the medical insurance industrial complex are all waiting upon data that the Germans, Italians and Japanese have already compiled – data that shows Heavy Ion treatment is vastly superior to conventional cancer therapy here in the United States.
In the next in this series, we’ll look at the progress that has been made outside of the U.S. with Carbon Ion, the promising results of clinical studies, the wide application of CIRT for diverse types of carcinomas and cancers and plans to introduce it here in America.