The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - August 29, 2015
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Optimizing Radiation Therapy
Researchers at Poland’s National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in Świerk near Warsaw are looking for methods to optimize cancer treatment while using radiation therapy. Their main concern is to find a way to effectively eradicate tumors without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

The studies are part of the European Metrology Research Program coordinated by the European Association of National Metrology Institutes (EURAMET).

The first stage of the program, called Biologically Weighted Quantities in Radiotherapy (BioQuaRT), has been completed. It focused on various physical and biological aspects of dosimetry, or the calculation and assessment of the radiation dose received by the human body. According to the Polish researchers, the commonly used notion of “absorbed radiation dose” is not sufficient to determine the efficiency of radiotherapy treatment; its biological effects depend on the kind of radiation used and the energy involved.

“Our objective was to develop measurement and simulation techniques capable of yielding information on the interaction of ionizing particles with matter at various points of their path,” said Stanisław Pszona, Ph.D., from the Interdisciplinary Applications of Physics Division at the National Center for Nuclear Research. The research also sought “to find correlations between those interactions and biological effects caused by them in individual living cells. We have studied interactions on path segments from 2 to 20 nanometers.”

In the 1970s, long before nanotechnology developed, NCBJ scientists pioneered a field of research called nanodosimetry. However, the field did not grow quickly until only recently due to devices such as the Jet Counter developed at the National Center for Nuclear Research. This device is one of just three worldwide that can study the interactions of ionizing radiation with sub-cell biological structures. Experimental data obtained at the NCBJ will enable an international team of scientists to model nano-scale phenomena in an effort to improve the planning of cancer radiotherapy treatment.

The first phase of the BioQuaRT research project lasted three years and cost 3.5 million euros. The results were promising, so the European Association of National Metrology Institutes decided to continue financing the research.

Cancer incidence has doubled worldwide during the past 30 years. This has triggered a growing demand for radiotherapy focusing on specific types of cancer and different types of ionizing radiation. Besides conventional radiation with high-energy photon beams, there is growing interest in new and effective methods employing other forms of ionizing radiation that are suitable for the treatment of tumors located near highly sensitive organs. One example is proton therapy, which uses streams of protons—tiny particles with a positive charge—to kill tumor cells. The number of patients treated in proton therapy centers worldwide increased from 3,000 in 2005 to about 14,000 in 2013.

EURAMET seeks to develop and disseminate an integrated, cost-effective and internationally competitive measurement infrastructure for Europe. The association aims “to establish a balanced European measurement infrastructure,” taking into account the needs of industry, business and governments. Metrology is the science of measurement that includes theoretical and practical aspects of measurement.

Proton Therapy for Cancer Patients

A zl.250 million radiotherapy center in the southern city of Cracow will soon begin providing cutting-edge proton beam cancer therapy for patients, including small children. The new National Center for Hadron Radiotherapy will use special equipment for administering proton therapy to patients. With this equipment, a proton beam can be directed at the patient’s body with great precision to destroy cancer cells while doing minimum damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

The National Center for Hadron Radiotherapy will coordinate research on radiation therapy, medical physics and radiobiology. It will also develop clinical and scientific infrastructure for hadron therapy in Poland.

About 10 percent of cancer patients who qualify for radiotherapy require proton therapy, according to Prof. Marek Jeżabek, director of the Henryk Niewodniczański Institute of Nuclear Physics, a Cracow-based research center run by the Polish Academy of Sciences.