Ion beam studies

A report from Macmillan Cancer Support (Nov 23rd 2011) highlighted brain cancer as having one of the shortest and most intransigent median survival rates. Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common of all brain tumours and accounts for the most years of human life lost, per patient, than any other form of cancer.

At the University of Surrey we are working with neuro-surgeons and neuro-oncologists at the Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge to study GBMs. This is done using both immortalised GBM cell lines and brain tumour initiating cells (BTIC), derived from patients. These latter cells, possess the genetic and hystopathological features of the parent tumour and consequently have the ability to closely mimic human response to treatment. Current studies use both radiation (X-rays and ions) and chemotherapeutic agents.  All the agents used in this study can cross the blood-brain barrier and some are being considered for clinical trials.  By using BTICs it is possible to look at the synergistic effects of radiation and chemo-therapy, thus replacing and reducing animal studies by developing an in vitro model based on more ‘patient-like’ cells for the screening of novel targeted therapies and their combination with radiation therapy.

For radiation treatment both conventional X-rays and ion beams are used. GBM are one of the cancer indications for which the NHS will pay for patients to be treated overseas and in April 2012 the government will announce the new proton therapy centres for England. Thus, this work is timely as it will help to underpin the development of this new treatment in the UK. X-ray studies are carried out at RSCH while Ion irradiation studies using (H, He, Li, C, O and Cl) are carried out at the Surrey Ion Beam Centre using the Wolfson vertical nanobeam, this can be used in either broad beam or targeted mode.  This facility is unique to the UK. In targeted mode, individual cells or structures within the cell can be targeted with precisely counted numbers of ions. This means that it is possible to look at the DNA damage in different cell lines, cell signalling and apoptosis.  The University also collaborates in  ion irradiation at clinical energies at the National Institute for Radiological Science (NIRS), HIMAC, Japan, this uses broad beam irradiation but allows investigation of heavier ions (Fe, Si) and changes in Linear Energy Transfer.  At both the University of Surrey and HIMAC studies are conducted using irradiation alone or combining radiation with other agents.  In addition to the Chemo-therapeutic agents mentioned above investigations are also looking at using gold nano-particles, developed at the Advanced Technology Institute, University of Surrey, to increase the local effectiveness of the irradiation and encouraging results are being obtained.

In combination with the experimental studies the University are also developing a suite of multi-scale mathematical models which model from the cellular level up to the clinical decision making process. These models take input from experimental studies but also inform and contribute to the design our experimental studies.

For more information about the bio-medical applications of the ion beam, please visit the biomedical applications page of the Ion Beam Centre website.