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New Lab to Help Treat Cancer
November 2, 2015   
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Poland’s National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) is launching a specialized laboratory for research on Boron-Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT), a promising new method to treat some types of cancer, including brain tumors. The laboratory will help enable Poland to join international efforts to enhance this emerging cancer treatment method, which recently has attracted global interest.

Among its research facilities, the center, based in ¦wierk near Warsaw, operates a nuclear reactor called Maria. The new laboratory will use beams of epithermal neutrons—neutrons with an energy in the range immediately above the thermal range—for research on Boron-Neutron Capture Therapy.

The project fits into renewed global interest in this cancer treatment method, said Prof. Grzegorz Wrochna, director-general of the National Center for Nuclear Research. “Due to its unique properties, including its intense neutron flux, the Polish research reactor Maria is perfectly suited for such innovative projects,” Wrochna said. “That way we expect to become a leading European research center involved in BNCT research.”

Boron-Neutron Capture Therapy is a new cancer treatment technique that may become a viable alternative to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The procedure involves injecting high concentrations of boron isotopes into a cancerous tumor and subsequently subjecting the tumor to a beam of low-intensity neutrons. When neutrons penetrate boron atoms, a reaction occurs that destroys nearby cancerous cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.

Doctors say BNCT is especially effective in treating brain tumors, polymorphic glioma, recurrent head and neck tumors, colon cancer, and malignant melanoma.

Until recently, research nuclear reactors were needed for BNCT. Now efforts to develop a neutron generator that could be installed directly in hospitals are under way in many countries, including Japan, Argentina, Italy, China and Russia. The first prototype generators are expected to appear next year.

“Before doctors start to use BNCT in hospitals, they must undergo specialized training in nuclear research facilities,” says Michał Gryziński, Ph.D., head of the Mixed Radiation Dosimetry Lab at the National Center for Nuclear Research. “Under the supervision of nuclear physicists, they will acquire the skills needed to use this method of treatment. This may be an opportunity for us. We have been working on this at ¦wierk since last year.” Gryziński adds that the Maria reactor offers favorable conditions to install a uranium converter capable of producing epithermal neutrons. “In Poland we have some highly valued experts on research on boron carriers used in BNCT therapy, and at ¦wierk we have the necessary infrastructure, know-how, and people representing various fields of engineering involved in the idea of research on this form of therapy,” he says.

The new BNCT research facilities at ¦wierk are expected to be fully operational next year. They will make it possible to not only train BNCT therapy experts, but also conduct research on various treatment-related topics, such as beams of epithermal neutrons, boron compounds, optimal forms of therapy planning, radiation-shielding materials and dosimetric gauges as well as research on cell cultures and on developing methods to eradicate herpes spores and parasites such as nematodes.
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