The IAEA and Japan’s Okayama University have agreed to work together in the field of boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT), a non-invasive therapeutic technique for treating invasive malignancies. An agreement signed yesterday in Vienna during the 66th General Conference of the IAEA designates Okayama University as the first IAEA collaborating center in this field.
The IAEA and Okayama University have a long history of collaboration on BNCT, a neutron-based radiation therapy technique for cancer. This highly targeted technique relies on the preferential uptake of a boron-containing pharmaceutical into tumor cells and then irradiating the tumor area with neutrons.
Under the terms of the new Collaborating Center Agreement, Okayama University agrees to:
- Provide assistance to institutions wishing to build a BNCT facility;
- Ensure the education and training of BNCT specialists;
- welcome young female graduate students interested in this field within the framework of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship program of the IAEA; and
- Develop standardized protocols in support of the BNCT.
Okayama University’s existing specialized medical physics course on BNCT will be translated into English for a wider global audience, and the university will also organize research on measuring the distribution of boron pharmaceuticals in tissues. .
Growing global interest in BNCT progress
Significant advances in recent years have led to the development of accelerator-based compact neutron sources that can be installed in hospitals. There they can be registered as medical devices and provide BNCT in a clinical setting. In Japan, regulatory approval was obtained for a cyclotron-based BNCT system, a treatment planning device and a boron-containing pharmaceutical for use in the routine clinical treatment of recurrent head and neck cancer and unresectable. This has spurred interest worldwide with several commercial companies entering the market and many new facilities being built or planned, bringing the world to over 30 facilities involved in BNCT-related work.
In 2001, the IAEA produced a report on the BNCT entitled Current status of neutron capture therapy, which has remained one of the major references in the field. It was realized that it was time for a new report on the BNCT to reflect the great changes that have taken place in the field over the past two decades. Under existing practical arrangements, the Center for Neutron Therapy Research at Okayama University provided much of the coordination for the global BNCT community at two major technical meetings held in 2020 and 2022, and while writing a new TECDOC which should be published in the next few months.
“This collaborating center agreement comes at a time when interest in the BNCT is growing widely around the world, and Okayama University provides a good focal point for IAEA activities in the field,” said said Najat Mokhtar, Deputy Director General of the IAEA and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.
“As an IAEA Collaborating Center, Okayama University intends to further accelerate its cooperation with the IAEA on technical development and educational programs for a new generation of BNCTs,” added Hirofumi. Makino, president of Okayama University. “We will engage in active information sharing as the global center for research, development and education for BNCT and strive to contribute to global health and peace.”
BNCT: the science behind
Patients undergoing BNCT are given a boron reagent, often injected intravenously, which accumulates in cancer cells. When a stable isotope of boron (boron-10) of the reagent is struck by a neutron beam in cancer cells, it captures neutrons, which causes a nuclear reaction and the creation of energetic helium (alpha particle) and lithium nuclei. The nuclei deposit their energy in the tumor cell, causing damage and cell death. The tumor is targeted by selectively introducing the boron reagent into the tumor cells, not by directing the beam at the cells, as in other radiation therapies, in which healthy tissue may still be damaged as a result. The high biological efficiency of this procedure and precisely targeted cell damage are major advantages of BNCT in clinical therapy.
IAEA Collaborating Centers
To promote the use of nuclear technologies, the IAEA works with designated institutions around the world. Through the network of Collaborating Centers, these organizations assist the IAEA by undertaking original research and development and training activities related to nuclear science and technologies and their safe and secure applications. There are currently 58 active IAEA Collaborating Centers in 36 countries, working to help Member States achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.