Charged particle beams, such as protons, are advantageous for cancer therapy because the finite range of the particles results in relatively little dose at the surface of a patient's body while depositing greater dose just before the particles come to rest in tissue (the Bragg peak). Because of this dose distribution advantage, the use of protons in cancer treatment has expanded greatly in recent years. In addition to the physical dose distribution, ions heavier than protons have increased biological advantages because of greater cell killing, decreased oxygen effect and smaller variation in radiation sensitivity through the cell cycle in replicating cells. Many of these biological advantages were demonstrated originally in the US and the early clinical studies of heavy ions were in the US. This knowledge led to development of five carbon ion therapy centers overseas, but there are none in the US. Importantly, many critical biology and physics questions remain about particles for therapy use, and this paucity of data is a significant impediment to exploiting the full potental of charged particle therapy. In anticipation that, in the not-too-distant future, therapy with ions heavier than protons will be resurrected in the US, fundamental radiation biology studies are proposed herein that will provide new data needed to guide R&D for such a facility. The proposed studies will utilize the unique facilities at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), currently the only location in the US where biological studies with ions heavier than protons can be conducted, to perform specific, highly clinically-relevant, cutting-edge studies. The overall goal is to address whether carbon is the optimal ion species for cancer therapy with particles and what tumor characteristics should be used to identify the tumors that would benefit most from ion therapy.
The specific aims are to: (1) determine biological effectiveness of several ion species (atomic numbers from helium to oxygen) of clinical interest compared to 200 MeV protons as a function of depth in tissue equivalent material for selected tumor and normal cell types of varying radiation responsiveness and (2) assess the mode of cell death (apoptosis, permanent cell cycle arrest, mitotic catastrophe, autophagy) in cells irradiated with heavier ions compared to protons. We will test the hypothesis that the greater effectiveness of heavy ion-induced cell killing for cell types that show greater cell recovery after low LET radiations (i.e., low ?/? ratios) results from increased induction of apoptosis in cells that are normally resistant to low LET-radiation-induced apoptosis. This systematic study will provide novel information on which ion species might be most useful for therapy, increase insight into which specific tumor types might be best treated with specific ions, and provide quantitative data to facilitate novel biophysical modeling of ion beams for therapy. This information will help guide planning for a heavier-than-protons facility in the US.

Public Health Relevance

Because of dose distribution advantages, protons have proven to be a successful mode of cancer therapy for certain tumor types and are being used increasingly. Heavier charged particles have additional biological advantages for cancer therapy, which has led to development of carbon ion facilities in Japan, Germany and Italy, but not in the US, despite the fact that the pioneering biology and clinical studies with heavy ions occurred at Berkeley National Lab. This project is designed to use the unique facilities at the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Lab, currently the only facility in the US where heavy ion biology studies can be conducted, to address critical basic radiation biology questions regarding optimum ion species and tumor characteristics and provide much needed new data that will guide R&D for eventual construction of a heavier-than-protons particle treatment facility in the US.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZCA1-RPRB-M (O1))
Program Officer
Bernhard, Eric J
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Massachusetts General Hospital
United States
Zip Code
Held, Kathryn D; Kawamura, Hidemasa; Kaminuma, Takuya et al. (2016) Effects of Charged Particles on Human Tumor Cells. Front Oncol 6:23
Held, Kathryn D; Blakely, Eleanor A; Story, Michael D et al. (2016) Use of the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory to Conduct Charged Particle Radiobiology Studies Relevant to Ion Therapy. Radiat Res 185:563-7