New cancer therapy using neutrons

Partnership launched between CNAO, INFN, the Politecnico di Milano and the University of Pavia

A new experimental cancer treatment will be developed in Italy by virtue of the partnership between the National Center for Oncological Hadrontherapy (CNAO), the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), the Politecnico di Milano and the University of Pavia. In 2024, an accelerator for the production of neutron beams will be installed at CNAO in Pavia. It has been designed for the purposes of clinical research activity: it will be used to develop Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) which consists of irradiating tumour cells with neutron beams after having treated the patient with a medication containing an atom of a particular chemical element: Boron-10.

Boron-10 accumulates in tumour cells to a significantly greater extent than in normal cells due to the greater metabolic demand of the former.  Irradiation of the area containing the neoplasm with neutrons leads to an interaction between the neutrons and the Boro-10: the nuclear reaction is selective since it only impacts the nucleus of Boron-10, giving off energy that is capable of destroying tumour cells. The process is expected to be very effective in treating particularly complex tumours. This technology is made available by Tae Life Sciences, a US company that has chosen to invest in Italian research.

Doctors, physicists, radiobiologists and engineers from CNAO, INFN, the Politecnico di Milano and the University of Pavia will contribute in their respective fields of expertise in order to begin pre-clinical and clinical trials of BNCT and to obtain the CE marking that certifies that the medical device complies with essential patient safety requirements.

The fight against cancer represents one of the greatest challenges of our time. The expertise deployed by the Politecnico di Milano will prove to be an important ally. Increasingly advanced technology will play a central role: from robotics to data analysis, from image processing systems to mathematical models, from predictive systems to machine learning,

remarked Ferruccio Resta, the Politecnico’s Rector.

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