Science News

Powering up radiotherapy

Mon, 21st Nov 2011

Chris Smith

Part of the show Neutrinos and Nutrition

A way to boost the effectiveness of radiotherapy and protect patients and even astronauts from the effects of radiation exposure has been discovered by scientists at AstronautOslo University.

Radiotherapy causes side effects because the dose of radiation needed to destroy sufficient numbers of cancers cells also causes significant damage to healthy tissue. But the dose cannot be reduced or delivered in smaller amounts over time because radiation exposure also causes and effect called "radiation resistance" in the surviving cells, whereby subsequent doses of radiation are much less effective.

But now Erik Pettersen and Nina Edin at Oslo University have discovered the chemical basis of this resistance effect, meaning that if it can be selectively deactivated in cancer cells, or conversely boosted in healthy tissue, then the side effects of radiotherapy could be minimised by cutting down the dose.

They made the discovery by showing that growth medium from cells exposed to radiation can confer radio-resistance upon second batch of non-irradiated cells. This was the initial proof that a chemical signal of some kind must be being secreted by radiation-exposed cells. In the context of a human body exposed to radiation, this means that, paradoxically, radiation-exposed healthy tissue can also end up protecting the cancer cells by secreting the same signals.

Now they've identified the factor responsible, a signal called TGF-beta-3, which locks cells into a resistant state. Removing it from a tumour renders it vulnerable again, whilst elevating the signal in healthy tissue can lead to protection.

The potential benefits don't stop there though. As the researchers point out, the same trick could be exploited to protect humans from incidental radiation exposure - such as astronauts and high-altitude fliers - as well as patients undergoing high-dose x-ray investigations like CT scans...

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What are the effects on 3rd and 4th and 5th, ... batch of cells?

If the effects are very long lasting, then an astronaut who DOES get a tumor has one less treatment option :/
On the other side, this could be used prophylactically against melanoma for people who're going on a "sunbathing vacation".

In any case, the long term effects will be decisive for the success of this line of thought Nizzle, Tue, 22nd Nov 2011

A good point. They point they are making is that the pathway that subserves this radio-resistance is now understood, making it easier, ultimately, to manipulate it.

Chris chris, Sat, 26th Nov 2011

I think that the only way to shield from cosmic plasma as well as small traveling debris is to use a powerful strong magnetic field for a shield from CME's, Plasma in the Van allen belt. intense radiation surrounding space craft.  This magnetic field should work like the Earths magnnetosphere. Possibly many fields to cover space craft.  Just thinking always. terrildactl, Sat, 26th Nov 2011

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