June 20, 2024

New Compounds show Promise in Targeting and Killing Brain Cancer Cells with Low X-ray Dose

A group of researchers, led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), has made significant progress in treating the most prevalent type of brain cancer using a lower dose of X-rays than traditional radiation therapy. The groundbreaking method successfully inhibited the growth of brain tumors in mice, paving the way for potential future applications in human patients.

Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer among adults, with over 300,000 individuals worldwide being diagnosed each year. If left untreated, this aggressive cancer quickly spreads throughout the brain. On average, patients diagnosed with glioblastoma have a survival rate of approximately one and a half years.

One common treatment for glioblastoma is radiotherapy, which utilizes X-rays to eliminate cancer cells. However, this approach can inadvertently damage healthy cells surrounding the tumor, resulting in adverse side effects such as hair loss, memory problems, and nausea.

To overcome these challenges, researchers have been developing radiodynamic therapy, a relatively new treatment option. This therapy involves injecting patients with specially designed compounds that produce cancer-killing free radicals when exposed to X-rays. The X-ray dose required to activate these compounds is significantly lower, approximately 20% to 30% of the dose required for conventional radiotherapy.

While radiodynamic therapy has shown promise, the current anti-cancer compounds used in this treatment are not able to accurately target cancer cells. Instead, they can reach healthy cells and become activated if they are in close proximity to the X-ray source, leading to damage in healthy tissue.

Addressing these concerns, a team of researchers led by Prof. Pu Kanyi from NTU’s School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Biotechnology, has developed a novel compound known as a molecular radio afterglow dynamic probe (MRAP). Unlike the existing compounds, MRAP does not contain heavy metals and consists of biochemicals and iodine.

In their study, the researchers injected MRAP directly into brain tumors of mice and subsequently administered X-rays to the same location. The dosage of X-rays used was over six times lower than that of current radiodynamic therapy methods.

Upon exposure to X-ray radiation, the MRAPs in the tumors became energized and released cancer-killing free radicals upon encountering a specific enzyme produced in large quantities by brain tumor cells. Importantly, the MRAPs did not generate free radicals in normal cells during their experiments, indicating a lack of side effects. In contrast, traditional radiodynamic therapy compounds are not as precise and can activate their anti-cancer properties in healthy cells.

Given these findings, MRAPs are expected to have lower side effects in human patients compared to other forms of radiation treatment. Furthermore, after treatment with MRAPs, the brain tumors in mice ceased to grow, resulting in these mice surviving twice as long as untreated mice. In fact, the treated mice lived for 76 days compared to the control mice, which survived only 37 days.

Remarkably, the MRAP-treated animals displayed no signs of tissue damage or weight loss. The compounds were eventually excreted through urine and feces.

Overall, this breakthrough research offers new possibilities for safer and more effective radiation treatment for glioblastoma. By targeting cancer cells more precisely and utilizing a lower dose of X-rays, this innovative approach shows great promise in improving patient outcomes and reducing side effects. Further studies are needed to assess the viability of MRAPs in human clinical trials and to understand their full potential in the treatment of glioblastoma.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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