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Heavy ion therapy shines hope on cancer patients

Updated: 2023-09-07 08:14 ( China Daily )
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"I never thought that I would beat the tumor," says a cancer patient in Lanzhou in Northwest China's Gansu province.

The man adds that he is particularly grateful for heavy ion therapy he received, at a follow-up visit following several rounds of treatment revealed that his cancer cells had disappeared.

A research team from the Institute of Modern Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed the country's first medical heavy ion accelerator with independent intellectual property rights, and put it into clinical application.

The successful operation of the medical equipment blazed a trail of independent innovation from the initial basic research to its final industrialization and promotion, according to the China Science Daily.

In 1993, researchers proposed to carry out basic research on heavy ion cancer treatment during an academic conference held in Tianshui, Gansu.

Cancer treatments employing heavy ion accelerators can bombard a target with high-energy electrons to kill cancer cells.

Compared to traditional therapy such as radiation, heavy ion treatment is considered to be more balanced, exposing healthy cells to less radiation. The treatment period is shorter and the therapy can more effectively control cancer cells.

In 2006, China followed the United States, Japan and Germany to become the fourth country to successfully carry out heavy ion clinical treatment, when four cancer patients participated in preliminary clinical trials for heavy ion therapy.

Between 2006 and 2009, the research team cooperated with local hospitals to conduct preliminary clinical trial studies among 103 patients with superficial tumors and witnessed satisfactory curative effects.

The ultimate goal of heavy ion cancer therapy is to inject heavy ions into the body to treat deep tumors. Thus, the researchers began the preliminary clinical trial study on deep tumors in 2009.

From 2009 to 2013, there were 110 patients with deep tumors who took part in the preliminary clinical trial study, says Xiao Guoqing, former head of the IMP.

Meanwhile, the researchers were planning to develop a real medical heavy ion accelerator.

In 2015, China's first such accelerator, with independent intellectual property rights, rolled off the production line in Wuwei, in Gansu.

The price of the device is about one-third of similar imported ones, without any high maintenance costs.

On March 26, 2020, the accelerator was put into operation, and by the end of June this year, more than 750 patients completed their therapy at Wuwei's heavy ion treatment center, with remarkable curative effects.

The follow-up statistics showed that the three-year local tumor control rate reached 84 percent among 46 clinical trial participants.

Similar medical heavy ion accelerators are being developed in Fujian, Zhejiang, Hubei, Jiangsu and Jilin provinces.

The researchers disclosed that they are currently working on the development of a second-generation accelerator with lower power consumption.

Heavy ion therapy is highly effective in treating a wide range of solid tumors and can be used in cases where surgery is not possible or unsuitable, when a patient is sensitive to conventional radiation therapy, or prone to relapse following such therapy. This includes tumors located in the central nervous system, head, neck, skull base, chest and abdomen.

The range of indications is expected to broaden through further research and the maturation of the technology.


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