Your Health: Faster proton therapy

Learn more about the procedure and its life-saving potential.
Learn more about the procedure and its life-saving potential.
Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Researchers are conducting a new kind of trial with a radiation treatment they say holds promise in treating “tough to kill” tumors. Kelly Murphy was just 11 when he started to have pounding headaches out of the blue.

“I had almost complete lack of vision,” he recalls.

Kelly’s doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor. The best treatment at the time was highly focused proton therapy delivered by a specialized machine.

“We had actually moved here to get to the proton therapy,” he says. Kelly wore a specialized mask to keep his head in place during those treatments.

“It differs from the conventional type of radiation therapy in that we can steer it differently,” says Dr. John Breneman.

Now for the first time, researchers are studying flash proton therapy in humans. Flash delivers proton radiation up to one thousand times faster than what is used clinically today.

“So, a treatment that might typically take a minute would be delivered in a half a second,” Dr. Breneman said. “That can even further spare some of the normal tissue from the effects of radiation.”

Because flash proton therapy is being tested in a clinical trial, the current participants must be adults, but researchers are hoping the findings of this trial will allow them to expand.

“One research question is, will flash be able to help us cure kids with D.I.P.G. or other tumors that we can’t cure right now?” said pediatric oncologist Dr. John Perentesis.

After having traditional proton therapy and chemo, Kelly Murphy was able to ring the chimes, signaling the end of treatment. “You have to have confidence that you’ll make it through,” said Kelly, who is now 18 and cancer-free.

Preclinical trials in animals suggested that flash proton therapy could safely deliver treatment with fewer side effects. Prior to the University of Cincinnati trial, it had never been tested in humans.

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