New Cancer Research May Also Benefit Animals

Animals may benefit from new cancer research.

A partnership between Colorado State University and Japan paves the way for new cancer treatments that may lead to clinical trials to treat naturally occurring tumors in larger animals such as cats and dogs, as well as humans, according to the university in Fort Collins, Colo.

Colorado State University (CSU) has joined efforts with Japan to enable the university to research a cancer treatment – carbon ion therapy – not available in the United States. The bulk of the studies 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 boost the effectiveness of carbon ion therapy for cancer treatment.

Jac Nickoloff, head of CSU’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, said the alliance allows access to study a unique cancer therapy that has shown promise in Japanese clinical trials. “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,” he said.

A trilogy of cancer expertise from College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is involved: Animal Cancer Center, the newly launched international Center for Environmental Medicine and the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. The Center for Environmental Medicine, which will house the new research program, launched in 2008 at CSU in partnership with Japan during a trade mission trip.

Counterparts in Japan are Gifu University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, called NIRS, 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 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 notable successes, but the science behind how it works remains a mystery. There are no heavy ion accelerators for medical use in the United States, nor are any being planned, according to CSU.

Bill Hanneman, director of the Center for Environmental Medicine, said the partnership also solidifies the first joint faculty appointment between a U.S. university and a Japanese research institute, with the hire of a CSU alum and native of Japan with expertise in toxicology and cancer. Dr. Takamitsu Kato begins his work at CSU in April and will travel to NIRS twice a year to pursue research projects using the HIMAC, Hanneman said.

In Japan, 5,000 patients have received treatment with experimental HIMAC therapy. CSU, NIRS and Gifu University will partner on research into heavy ion radiotherapy and eventually embark on clinical trials involving cats and dogs, as well as humans.

Carbon ion therapy works similar to traditional radiation therapy that uses photons, in that a cancerous tumor is targeted to destroy cancer cells and tumors. Carbon ions, however, are larger than photons and their size allows them to 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 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 tumor shape.

Once the ions reach the tumor, the energy is delivered in a narrow zone, almost like an explosion within the tumor. The treatment provides doctors with options when targeting tumors near sensitive structures such as the brain.

Because it is a new therapy, carbon ion treatments are expensive and only a few people can be treated at a time. If environmental chemicals can make carbon ion treatments more effective, more patients can be treated, according to CSU.

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