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University of Alicante presents more efficient models for cancer treatment with ion beams

A method capable of following the trajectories of ion projectiles on any biological material such as liquid water, DNA or a protein



Alicante. Thursday, 22 December 2016

For more than seven years, researchers from the University of Alicante Department of Applied Physics have focused on the search for more complete and effective models for the treatment of cancer with very high-energy ion beams, a less aggressive therapy that can replace conventional radiotherapy. “"The treatment is called hadronotherapy and consists of depositing energy in cancer cells through ion beams such as protons, helium or carbon", as explained UA lecturer of Applied Physics and responsible for this line of research, Isabel Abril.

Over 50% of patients diagnosed with cancer receive treatments with ionizing radiation, such as photons, that deposits enough energy in the cancer cells to damage their genetic material, ie their DNA, which cause either cell death or prevent it from being reproduced. However, the problem with conventional radiotherapy is that it also significantly damages healthy tissues producing adverse side effects in patients.

Therefore, depositing energy in cancer cells through ion beams like protons or carbon is an alternative. "The advantage of hadronotherapy is that the ions lose little energy at the beginning of their journey inside the body and all of a sudden, they lose it just at the end of their journey. In this way, it is possible to make the deposited energy take place essentially where the tumour is located very precisely so as to minimise damage to healthy tissues and side effects", UA lecturer stated.  

According to Abril, "with this technique, it is possible to increase the dose of radiation with less toxicity to the patient,"  which is an important aspect when the tumour is located near sensitive organs such as the brain, spinal cord or prostate.


Innovative simulation code

The UA research group has developed an innovative simulation code SEICS, Simulation of Energetic Ions and Clusters through Solids, able to follow the trajectories of the projectiles that affect any biological material like DNA, a protein or liquid water - 80% of our body tissues are made up of water. "The theoretical tools and simulation programs developed in the Department of Applied Physics allow us to calculate, simulate and  predict diverse magnitudes of relevance in the interaction of energetic ions with biomaterials", Isabel Abril stressed.

In this sense, "from basic research we have calculated the radial distribution of the energy deposited by protons beams, which is closely related to the precision of the energy reservoir and, therefore, to the damaged caused in cancer cells", as he explained. This precision is lower than a millimetre and is one of the advantages that hadronotherapy presents versus conventional radiotherapy.

Currently, there are about 60 hadronotherapy centres in the world which require very sophisticated and expensive facilities as they must be equipped with an equipment known as synchrotron to accelerate ion, proton or carbon beams. In this regard, the University of Alicante professor is "convinced that basic research will enable a better understanding of the mechanisms that take place and produce the damage of the genetic material of cancer cells, and costs of these facilities will be reduced as this technology improves".

This work, published in several scientific journals of the American Physical Society (APS), has been developed with the collaboration of the University of Murcia, the University of Ioannina in Greece, the University of Belfast in the United Kingdom, and the European Centre for Theoretical Studies in Nuclear Physics located in Trento (Italy).



Angular and Energy Distributions of Electrons Produced in Arbitrary Biomaterials by Proton Impact”. Physical Review Letters 114 (2015)

Energy deposition of H and He ion beams in hydroxyapatite films: A study with implications in ion beam cancer therapy”. Physical Review E 89 (2014)

Semiempirical model for the ion impact ionization of complex biological media”. Physical Review Letters 110 (2013)

The effect of static many-body local-field corrections to inelastic electrón scattering in condensed media”. Journal of Applied Physics 114 (2013)


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