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Pushing back the frontier of cancer treatment

Boneca Corporation
Pushing back the frontier of cancer treatment Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) offers clear benefits for patients suffering recurring head and neck cancer following full-dose conventional radiation therapy. Boneca is the world’s only private health care company administering this type of advanced experimental treatment, and is also involved in developing BNCT technology.

BNCT is a biologically targeted form of radiation therapy based on producing radiation inside tumour cells to deliver a maximally high dose of radiation to a tumour and minimise the amount of harmful radiation given to healthy tissue. This highly targeted approach gives BNCT one of its biggest advantages: the ability to use single treatment sessions.

High therapeutic doses can be given in a single session, which typically consists of two consecutive irradiation periods of around 20 minutes. This compares very favourably to conventional therapy, in which it can be necessary to irradiate patients up to 30 times.

BNCT’s other major benefit is that it can be used with patients who can no longer be treated using conventional radiation therapy.

BNCT makes use of a special carrier substance – boron phenylalanine (BPA) – to carry boron into cancer cells. This is infused into a peripheral vein, allowing the boron to accumulate in the cancer tissue. The tumour containing the boron is subsequently irradiated with neutrons obtained from a research nuclear reactor. In Boneca’s case, this is the 250 kW FiR reactor at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland’s site near Helsinki, which features a specially designed epithermal neutron beam.

The boron atoms react with the neutrons from the reactor and split into two high-energy particles that can destroy cancer cells. Advanced methods developed by Boneca maximise the radiation dose to the tumour tissue and minimise the amount of harmful radiation given to healthy tissue.

Exciting prospects

BNCT is still an experimental form of treatment and Boneca’s current treatment is based on general BCNT research that has been carried out in Finland and joint development work done by the company and its partners: the Department of Oncology and other departments at the Helsinki University Central Hospital and VTT. Operational procedures are fully documented and clinically audited.

The company’s current research programme is concentrating on using BNCT to treat recurrent head and neck cancer and malignant brain tumours (glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma).

A Phase I/II study has confirmed that the majority of head and neck cancer in people suffering local recurrences after surgery and full-dose conventional radiation therapy responded very well to BNCT treatment. Ten patients had substantial tumour shrinkage following BNCT, and tumours were eliminated completely in seven cases. The adverse effects of the treatment were moderate and resembled those of conventional radiation therapy. Following this study, up to 30 subjects will now be allowed to enter the study protocol.

Boneca is sponsoring a research programme into the effect of BNCT on malignant brain tumours (glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma) and recurrent head and neck cancers, and building up scientific evidence for current protocols. The goal is to start BNCT treatment as a primary therapy for selected malignant tumours.

> Markku Pohjola
(Published in HighTech Finland 2010)