Increasing the Effectiveness of Cancer Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy is currently one of the main treatment modalities for cancer. UVic medical physicist Devika Chithrani is working to increase the effectiveness of the cancer radiotherapy, while simultaneously reducing the side effects.

“We are currently at the limit of the dosage of radiation we can give to patients,” says Chithrani. “While radiation therapy does save lives by damaging cancer cells, it also damages healthy cells in the surrounding treatment area, so there’s a careful balancing act involved when it comes to treatment.”

Chithrani’s research aims to tip the scales in favour of radiation. She’s focused on enhancing the amount of radiation given directly to the tumor and maximizing its effect, but also minimizing the dose received by healthy tissue. Currently, she is exploring the potential of a new radiotherapy that would include adding a unique combination of two radiosensitizing agents known to enhance the effect of radiation: Gold nanoparticles and docetaxel.

“Gold nanoparticles target tumour cells and react with the radiation to kill those cells only,” says Chithrani. “Docetaxel, a chemotherapeutic that can be delivered directly to the tumour via a lipid nanoparticle system, makes the tumour cells more sensitive to the radiation. Combining these two treatments with radiotherapy has the benefit of better targeting and increased effectiveness.” - Devika Chithrani, medical physicist

Chithrani is not just testing new treatments, but is also implementing new ways to test these therapeutics, using 3-dimensional tissue models in the lab. These models allow her to examine the effect of the treatment before testing in animal models, making the process of testing new therapies both faster and more cost efficient.

Chithrani’s research is supported by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), Networks of Centers of Excellence and the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Read the full UVic article here