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NTHU Spearheads Groundbreaking Research in the Treatment of Cancer
In March of 2010 NTHU’s Nuclear Science and Technology Development Center (NSTDC) teamed up with the Department of Oncology at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and the Particle Radiation Tumor Treatment Center (PRTTC) of the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors at the University of Tokyo to carry out clinical research on Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT). Over the past five years the team’s research has made significant contributions to the treatment of recurrent head and neck cancer.
 
BNCT is a binary radiation therapy modality that brings together two components. When kept separated, these two components have only minor effects on cells. The first component is a stable isotope of boron (boron-10) that can be concentrated in tumor cells by attaching it to tumor-seeking compounds. The second is a beam of low-energy neutrons. Boron-10 in or adjacent to the tumor cells disintegrates after capturing a neutron and the high energy, heavy charged particles produced will destroy only the cells in close proximity to it, primarily cancer cells, leaving adjacent normal cells largely unaffected.
 
The neutron beam portion of the BNTC research was carried out using Tsing Hua Open-pool Reactor (THOR), which has played an important role in non-military nuclear research in Taiwan for nearly half a century. Over 20 years ago the NSTDC began using THOR to carry out research on BNCT, including the design of neutron beams and the development of boron for medical applications. The high quality and suitability for medical applications of the neutron beams developed using THOR has been validated by international experts, and today NTHU is one of only six universities in the world with facilities for conducting research on BNCT. In March 2010 the THOR-BCNT research proposal was approved by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, and in August of the same year clinical trials were started, the first time that heavy particles have been used for medical treatment in Taiwan.
 
The main role of the Taipei Veterans General Hospital was to organize a clinical team consisting of physicians, physicists, and nurses in the Department of Oncology and to determine the dosage of boron to be used in the treatment. Currently clinical trials are being conducted on head and neck cancer, and future trials are being planned for patients suffering from brain cancer and liver cancer. According to Yan Shang-hui, the director of the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, the goal of such treatment is to eliminate as many cancerous cells as possible while minimizing the collateral damage done to healthy cells, and BNCT is one of the most promising types of “targeted radiation therapy” recently developed.
 
According to Dr. Ono, the director of the PRTTC, based on his experience using BNCT with nearly 1,000 cancer patients, the use of THOR in conducting BNCT research has much potential to advance clinical treatment of cancer.
 
Under the leadership of its Director, B.S. Pei, the NSTDC which includes Dr. Hong-Ming Lin, Dr. Peir Jinn-ger and Dr. Wang Mei-ya, has made a concerted effort to apply THOR to research in BNCT. Moreover, each year over 20 teachers, students, and research personnel at NTHU’s College of Nuclear Science participate in the ongoing research on BNCT. Every month the research teams at NTHU and the Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital hold a seminar to discuss the latest progress in the program, and twice a year a workshop is held in conjunction with the PRTTC at the University of Tokyo.
 
These three institutions have also established a partnership with the Taiwan Biotech Company to conduct research for developing high-quality boron for medical purposes. Also, between 2010 and 2014 the program has conducted BNCT at MacKay Memorial Hospital in Hsinchu for 17 patients with recurrent head or neck cancer not amenable to other forms of treatment. The treatment was given twice to each patient, and resulted in significant improvement in both their medical condition and quality of life; more importantly, for six of the patients the tumor had completely disappeared.
 
This cooperative project marks a new chapter in the history of targeted heavy-particle therapy in Taiwan. Thus far the results have been very encouraging, and it is expected that in the future related research will be conducted on the application of BNCT to other forms of cancer.
 
Press conference for publicizing the results of the international research project on BNCT.

Press conference for publicizing the results of the international research project on BNCT.

Simulation of cancer patient receiving BNCT.

Simulation of cancer patient receiving BNCT.

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