Contact: Mona S.Rowe,(516) 282-2345
Diane Greenberg, (516) 282-2347
Called boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT), the treatment is being tried on glioblastoma multiforme, an especially virulent type of brain cancer that affects about 7,000 Americans each year. Life expectancy is limited, with fewer than three percent of patients surviving beyond five years.
At present, Brookhaven Lab is the only location in the U.S. where researchers are conducting clinical trials of BNCT on brain tumors. Brookhaven began a multi-patient clinical trial of BNCT in February of this year, with Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City as the sole collaborating institution. The University Medical Center at Stony Brook will be the second collaborating institution.
In BNCT, a compound containing the element boron is administered intravenously to the patient, in whom it accumulates preferentially in malignant tumor tissue. The tumor is then irradiated with neutrons produced by a nuclear reactor. Some of the boron atoms absorb neutrons and then self-destruct, releasing powerful but very short-range radiation selectively in the tumor.
Because the boron concentrates in the tumor cells, researchers hope that the cancer can be destroyed without the radiation seriously affecting normal brain cells nearby.
BNCT was first attempted at Brookhaven in the 1950s, and the Laboratory built a small nuclear reactor specifically to test the therapy. Clinical trials at Brookhaven and at another reactor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were halted in 1961 because the results were disappointing. The boron compound used at that time did not preferentially accumulate in the tumor. Also, the low-energy neutron beam did not penetrate deeply enough into the patient's head to destroy the tumor without harming surrounding healthy tissue. Out of the 63 terminally ill people who volunteered for the treatment, most died of their tumors and some died from radiation-induced damage to their brains.
In recent years, two new developments have improved the therapy: a new boron compound, called BPA, and an intermediate-energy neutron beam, called an epithermal neutron beam. The new combination has been very successful in animal studies, leading Brookhaven researchers to reinvestigate BNCT in clinical trials with humans.
BNCT is also being studied in Japan, where a limited number of patients are treated each year. Researchers in Europe are also working on BNCT, although they have not yet applied the therapy to humans.
Because BNCT is considered experimental, Brookhaven's study is designed to establish the safety, potential adverse effects and effectiveness of the therapy. At present, the program is limited to patients with a type of brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme.
Patients eligible to participate in the clinical trial must meet certain criteria. At a minimum, they must be at least 18 years and must never have had a full course of radiation or chemotherapy for their brain tumors. Other factors are also considered, such as location of the tumor.
Patients and physicians interested in BNCT may obtain more information by calling Brookhaven's BNCT Office, at (516)282-3684.
The BNCT program at Brookhaven is funded by the Office of Health and Environmental Research, within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Research.
Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, operates the Laboratory under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.