North West Cancer Research funds proton beam research

Fri, March 24th, 2017

Research will look at effective treatments for head and neck cancer

The UK’s only therapeutic proton beam at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is now being used in a ground-breaking piece of research which aims to determine future effective treatments for head and neck cancers.

It is the first time the proton beam has been used in a cancer research project such as this. The research is being led by a group of scientists at The University of Liverpool, with funding from North West Cancer Research.

The research will investigate the most common type of head and neck cancer – squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) which relates to cancers in the lining of the mouth, nose and throat.

Liverpool is steadily staking its claim as a centre of excellence for Proton Beam treatment, bolstered by the recent news that the city will house a second proton therapy centre at the new Paddington Village scheme, currently underway.

Nearly 600,000 new cases of head and neck SCC are reported a year. Around 100 people a year are diagnosed with this type of cancer in Liverpool, making it the 6th most common cancer worldwide.

Advanced head and neck cancers are notoriously difficult to treat, with a limited prognosis for patients.

Enabling pioneering cancer research 

 Now, the team of researchers in Liverpool want to use advances in proton beam therapy to determine how it can be used as an effective treatment for head and neck cancers in the future.

Under the supervision of Dr Jason Parsons, researchers are using the proton beam facility at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Wirral to investigate the impact of protons on head and neck SCC cells.

Dr Parsons explains: “Radiotherapy is considered the most effective treatment for head and neck cancers, but in some cases it can have little effect on the cancer cells and these are resistant to treatment.

“Our research explores the effect that radiotherapy, including x-rays and protons, has on different types of head and neck cancers, looking closely at the DNA damage the radiation causes and how cancer cells repair themselves after treatment.

“We’ve found that in some cancer types resistance to conventional radiotherapy is high, so we started to explore how proton therapies could be used as an alternative in these cases to increase cancer cell killing.

“Protons deliver a higher dose of radiation directly to the tumour, and reduce the dose delivered to the surrounding normal tissue. For patients, this should decrease adverse side effects of the treatment.

“We are still in the early stages of our research, but thanks to the support of The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, which has made the proton beam available for our research, we have been able to make significant progress.

“We are the first and only research team to use the proton beam facility in this type of cancer research and it is exciting to be at the forefront of medical research and using ground-breaking equipment to advance cancer research.”

£187,000 funding from North West Cancer Research 

The research has been supported by a three-year grant worth £187,000 from North West Cancer Research. It has also been boosted by £20,000 worth of funding from The Clatterbridge Cancer Charity to create a dedicated research laboratory at the hospital which will allow easier access to the proton beam biology research.

Professor Michael Brada, Consultant in Clinical Oncology at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and Professor of Radiation Oncology at University of Liverpool who is a collaborator in the research, said: “The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is currently the only centre in the UK using proton beam therapy for patient treatment.

“The well characterised low energy beam in Clatterbridge is ideal for biological experiments. Providing the technology to the team for this research illustrates the importance of a collaborative approach in developing and testing new ways to treat head and neck cancer.”

Alastair Richards, CEO North West Cancer Research, added: “Collaboration is the key to making significant progress in the fight against cancer. Dr Parsons’ work, which is based at the North West Cancer Research Centre, is a truly collaborative approach utilising the state-of-the-art proton beam technologies available right here on our doorstep.

“It is our hope that this research will yield some positive outcomes, which could influence and improve treatments for head and neck cancer patients.”

Proton therapy is a type of radiation treatment that uses protons to treat and destroy cancer cells. It is currently being used at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre specifically to treat patients with eye cancer and to date 3,060 patients have been treated using the equipment.

Proton therapy painlessly delivers radiation from a particle accelerator called a cyclotron. The protons are then delivered to the targeted area in the body containing the tumour where they deposit the specific radiation doses and nothing beyond the tumour.

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