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SV researchers lead study demonstrating potential of positrons in cancer therapy

A team of researchers led by Sydney Vital’s director Professor Dale Bailey has published a paper in Scientific Reports demonstrating the potential of positrons in cancer therapy, becoming the first group to do so.

The paper, “Overlooked potential of positrons in cancer therapy,” was penned by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, including six Sydney Vital members – Prof Dale Bailey, A/Prof Viive Howell, Dr Yaser Gholami, Dr Kelly McKelvey, Harry Marquis and Takanori Hioki. Mr Hioki, a SV Research Scholar Award recipient and PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, says that even though “postiron emitters have been used clinically for decades as an imaging/diagnostic agent in Positron Emission Tomography (PET), their therapeutic potential has been overlooked,” and their team, led by Prof Bailey, set out to demonstrate this potential.

The secret of the positrons’ high effectiveness in destroying cancer cells lies in their charge as well as their structure, as Mr Hioki explains: “While positrons are physically very similar to beta-minus, a commonly used radionuclide therapy for cancers of the thyroid and prostate, they have the opposite (positive) charge. This difference means that it can cause more DNA damage in tissue over a shorter distance, hence delivering a higher “kill” rate to tumour tissue.”

After this success, the team’s next steps are already laid out for them: “[We] are currently working on the follow-up project that further optimises the results discussed in this first paper, in the hope of later translating the use of positron emitters as a dual therapeutic and diagnostic agent into pre-clinical research and clinical trials,” Mr Hioki says.

Image: β+ track deposits energy in water in through the formation of “spurs” and the terminal “blob”, before a positronium (Ps) formation and annihilation to generate the 0.511 MeV photons. Figure 1, Hioki, T., Gholami, Y.H., McKelvey, K.J. et al. Overlooked potential of positrons in cancer therapy. Sci Rep 11, 2475 (2021). doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-81910-4

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