Experimental 'pulse radiotherapy' kills cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue

July 17, 2014, Cancer Research UK

(Medical Xpress)—French researchers have developed a new radiation technique that appears to target tumour cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed, according to a new study in mice. 

The technique, known as 'FLASH', was developed by researchers at the Institut Curie in Paris and delivers short pulses of intense to .

Radiotherapy uses high-energy radiation to permanently damage the DNA of , causing them to die by committing suicide.

Standard treatment delivers a continuous beam of radiation to targeted areas. But this can also damage normal tissue surrounding tumours.

The latest study in mice, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that rapid pulses of high-dose radiation affected implanted differently to healthy cells, killing off the tumour cells while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue intact.

When analysed in the lab, the researchers found that the cancer cells given radiotherapy pulses were dying via a completely different molecular 'suicide' pathway to those given continuous treatment.

The sub-millisecond bursts of radiation were delivered using an experimental radiotherapy machine. And the next phase of the research will look into whether the approach can be replicated in other tissues.

Professor Gillies McKenna, director of the Cancer Research UK and Medical Research Council Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology, said the findings could be "game-changing", but emphasised that the research is still at an early stage.

"Although this research was done in mice, it's an impressive study and if it holds true in other tissues this could become a game-changing piece of research. It suggests that cancer cells die after rapid pulses of very high dose radiation exposure in an entirely different way to , and – if confirmed – this could lead to a radically different way of giving radiotherapy to patients," he said.

One of the constraints of the FLASH treatment is that it relies on technology currently not found in radiotherapy facilities. And if it were to be developed further, a completely new generation of radiotherapy machinery will be required, Professor McKenna added.

Emlyn Samuel, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Research doesn't stop, and this study is a great example of how developing new technology and lab research could combine to improve radiotherapy treatment for people with cancer. But it's vital that the NHS is in a position to adopt any new, exciting technologies that are proven effective so that patients can benefit in the future.

"Planning for future innovations is why we jointly produced the 10-year Vision for Radiotherapy with NHS England. We now need to ensure that the Government sets out a clear plan to adopt this vision, and realise the benefits of research to give patients access to the best, evidence-based treatments."

Explore further: Researchers seek more effective radiotherapy treatment for cancer

More information: Favaudon V, et al. (2014). "Ultrahigh dose-rate FLASH irradiation increases the differential response between normal and tumor tissue in mice," Science Translational Medicine, 6 (245) 245ra93. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008973

Related Stories

Researchers seek more effective radiotherapy treatment for cancer

July 1, 2014
A pioneering research project which aims to develop a more effective radiotherapy treatment for thousands of cancer sufferers will feature in a major public exhibition by The Royal Society.

Tracer could indicate radiation benefit to patient

June 3, 2014
A world-first radiotherapy treatment trial by University of WA researchers could have a major impact on the quality of life for mesothelioma patients.

Combination therapy could lead to reduction in prostate cancer recurrence

November 14, 2013
Prostate cancer patients who receive radiotherapy could soon be treated more effectively, according to research published today in the British Journal of Cancer.

Computer-controlled table could direct radiotherapy to tumours while sparing vital organs

December 18, 2013
Swivelling patients around on a computer-controlled, rotating table could deliver high doses of radiotherapy to tumours more quickly than current methods, while sparing vulnerable organs such as the heart, brain, eyes and ...

Diabetes drug makes lung cancer vulnerable to radiotherapy

May 1, 2013
The diabetes drug metformin slows the growth of lung cancer cells and makes them more likely to be killed by radiotherapy, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer today.

New technology to allow simultaneous tumour imaging and radiotherapy treatment

June 5, 2014
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust will be the first in the UK to gain access to a state-of-the-art radiotherapy system after entering into a pioneering research collaboration ...

Recommended for you

'Druggable' cancer target found in pathway regulating organ size

November 20, 2018
It's known that cancer involves unchecked cell growth and that a biological pathway that regulates organ size, known at the Hippo pathway, is also involved in cancer. It's further known that a major player in this pathway, ...

A study suggests that epigenetic treatments could trigger the development of aggressive tumours

November 20, 2018
A study headed by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and published in the journal Nature Cell Biology examined whether the opening of chromatin (a complex formed by DNA bound to proteins) is the factor ...

Redefining colorectal cancer subtypes

November 20, 2018
There is a long-standing belief that colorectal cancer (CRC), which causes some 50,000 deaths in the United States each year, can be categorized into distinct molecular subtypes. In a paper published recently in the journal Genome ...

Proposed cancer treatment may boost lung cancer stem cells, study warns

November 20, 2018
Epigenetic therapies—targeting enzymes that alter what genes are turned on or off in a cell—are of growing interest in the cancer field as a way of making a cancer less aggressive or less malignant. Researchers at Boston ...

New drug discovery could halt spread of brain cancer

November 19, 2018
The tissues in our bodies largely are made of fluid. It moves around cells and is essential to normal body function.

A molecule for fighting muscular paralysis

November 19, 2018
Myotubular myopathy is a severe genetic disease that leads to muscle paralysis from birth and results in death before two years of age. Although no treatment currently exists, researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.