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June 2011 Features “Frontline Research”

LastUpDate: June 16, 2011

Zero In On Cancer Cells

Schematic Process of BNCT

Schematic Process of BNCT

Professor Mitsunori Kirihata at the Graduate School of Life & Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with Stella Pharma successfully developed an innovative technology for creating a large number of high quality boron compounds for Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT).  Their research was adopted as one of the technology development projects supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) in 2008.  Since then ongoing research and development into boron compounds has further enhanced their effectiveness.

BNCT is a cell-selective radiation therapy highly effective for refractory cancers such as glioblastoma and head and neck tumors.  In BNCT treatment, a boron compound is intravenously injected into a patient.  A low-energy neutron beam is then irradiated at boron-containing tumors.  The boron atoms undergo fission and produce alpha particles and lithium ions releasing sufficient energy to selectively destroy the boron-containing tumor cells.

It was about 10 years ago when Professor Kirihata began his study on boron compounds.  “My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, and that eventually brought me into this BNCT research.  In global trends, death rate from cancer is on the rise.  The development of low-cost, high quality boron compounds for BNCT will greatly contribute to future cancer treatments,” says Professor Kirihata.

The project is currently at the pre-clinical study level.  The research has showed that BNCT was highly effective in destroying tumors and pro-longing patients’ lives after treatment.  One of the challenges that the research team faces is to discover optimal combinations of boron compounds with enhanced permeability and retention to treat different kinds of cancer.

The Osaka bay area is the center of BNCT research and development in Japan.  In 2000, the Osaka Bay Area BNCT Consortium was established by academic institutions and facilities including OPU and Stella Pharma with the aim of gathering and making further progress in the development of BNCT technologies. 

“We aim to make BNCT a standard cancer therapy, and I hope to achieve this within the next three years,” Professor Kirihata says.