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Research / Discovery

Partnership with Japan to research promising new cancer treatment

February 2, 2010

Colorado State University has entered into an unprecedented partnership with Japan that will allow the university to research a new, promising treatment for cancer - carbon ion therapy - which is currently not available in the United States.

Carbon ion and medicinal chemistry therapies

An Animal Cancer Center research assistant inspects breast cancer tumor cells under a microscope in the molecular oncology lab.

Research will focus on carbon ion therapy to treat multiple cancers as well as look at medicinal chemistry therapy – the use of naturally-occurring chemicals such as antioxidants – that may increase the effectiveness of carbon ion therapy for cancer treatment.

“This partnership gives Colorado State University ready access to study a unique cancer therapy that has shown great promise in Japanese clinical trials. This therapy is not being studied anywhere else in the United States,” said Jac Nickoloff, head of the university’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

“This partnership also allows us to create an international open laboratory that will be a platform for other U.S. researchers with expertise in cancer and toxicology to connect with the knowledge and resources available in Japan, the world leader in this new field of research.”

Colorado State cancer expertise

The partnership involves a trilogy of cancer expertise from College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences:

The Center for Environmental Medicine, which will house this new research initiative, was launched in 2008 at CSU in partnership with Japan during a trade mission trip involving Gov. Bill Ritter.

Zap tumors with heavy ion medical accelerator

Counterparts in Japan are Gifu University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, called NIRS, located in Chiba, which is Japan’s equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. NIRS is home to HIMAC, a heavy ion medical accelerator, in Chiba -- one of only three heavy ion medical accelerators operating worldwide, including another facility in Japan and one in Germany.

The HIMAC uses high-energy carbon ions to zap tumors with some very notable successes, but the science behind how it works is still not very well understood. There are no heavy ion accelerators for medical use in the United States, nor are any being planned.

Clinical trials to treat cats, dog, and humans eventually expected

In Japan, 5,000 patients have already been treated with experimental HIMAC therapy. CSU, NIRS and Gifu University will partner on research into heavy ion radiotherapy and eventually embark on clinical trials to treat naturally occurring tumors in larger animals such as cats and dogs, and in humans.

Carbon ion therapy works in a similar way to traditional radiation therapy that uses photons, in that a cancerous tumor is targeted with the goal to destroy cancer cells and tumors.

Limit damage to healthy cells

Carbon ions, however, are much larger than photons and their size allows them to cause more havoc and create irreparable damage when they hit a cancer cell. Another benefit: unlike traditional radiation therapies, carbon ion treatments do not damage healthy cells in the path to the tumor.

Scientists can control the depth in the body that the ions penetrate, and tailor the “shape” of the energy deposited by the carbon ions to closely match the shape of a tumor. Once the ions reach the tumor, the energy is delivered in a very narrow zone, almost like an explosion within the tumor. The treatment provides doctors with important options when targeting tumors near sensitive structures such as the brain.

Full new release

Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009