An Israeli company says it has developed a targeted radiation treatment that it claims can cure cancerous tumors.
"This is the first time in the world that you can treat solid tumors with alpha radiation," Alpha Tau Medical's CEO Uzi Sofer told the Times of Israel.
The technology called Diffusing Alpha-emitters Radiation Therapy, or DaRT, uses a needle to inject tumors with a radioactive seed that releases a high-energy dose of alpha radiation that destroys the tumor. The healthy tissue surrounding the tumors is left unharmed.
The procedure is minimally invasive and can be performed using local anesthesia in two hours or less, the company said. Sofer told the Times that for superficial tumors it's much "like going to a dentist."
How does it work?
The Alpha DaRT radioactive seeds are inserted into the tumor where they must stay for at least two weeks.
"In the process of decay, Radium-224 releases its short-lived Alpha-emitting atoms into the tumor," according to the company's website. "By diffusion and convection, these atoms disperse to a therapeutically significant range of several millimeters, delivering a high dose of radiation inside the tumor."
Sofer told the Times that the seeds are biocompatible and can remain inside an internal organ forever.
He said it could be used "to treat any kind of solid tumor," adding that it could be used concurrently with other cancer treatments.
"Right now, we have evidence for squamous cell carcinoma and we have 12 protocols that we are developing all around the world to treat patients with different solid tumors," Sofer told the Israeli news outlet.
Are there side effects?
No serious side effects were observed during clinical trials, according to company spokesperson Sara Jaehnert, adding that any "non-severe" side effects "were resolved within one to two months."
Why hasn't this type of radioactive material been used before?
Alpha particles are lethal to cancerous cells but they have an impractically short range in tissue, which means the particles had been unsuitable for cancer treatment, according to the company's website.
Trials have shown that DaRT can induce anti-tumor immunity. After the system is used, the body learns "what to find and what to destroy," Sofer said.
Have clinical trials started?
Clinical trials in humans started in early 2017. It was first tested on more than 6,000 animals.
There are currently two clinical trials for squamous cell carcinoma of the head, neck, and skin, which are taking place in Israel and Italy.
Sofer told the Times that preliminary results of the trials were "sensational."
All of the trials' patients responded to the treatment and the tumors disappeared in more than 70 percent of them.
The company said the treatment can teach a person's immune system recognize and destroy unhealthy cells.
"Cancer cells know how to 'hide' from the immune system," but "tumor ablation," which is what the company's therapy does, "can cause the formation of tumor-specific antigens that can then be recognized by the immune system," Jaehnert said.
Alpha Tau Medical is also working with cancer centers across the globe, including at least two locations in the U.S. — the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.
"We pray and believe that by next year we will have the first approval in Europe and then we'll have approval in the US and Japan, with a very clear road map for each country," Sofer told the Times.
Update, Dec. 20: This story been edited to more accurately reflect the technological processes used by Alpha Tau Medical.