Colorado State University has entered into an unprecedented partnership with Japan that will allow the University to research a new, promising treatment for cancer – carbon ion therapy – which is currently not available in the United States.
“This partnership gives Colorado State University ready access to study a unique cancer therapy that has shown great promise in Japanese clinical trials. This therapy is not being studied anywhere else in the United States,” said Dr. Jac Nickoloff, Head of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.
The partnership involves a trilogy of cancer expertise from College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences: the recently launched international Center for Environmental Medicine, the Animal Cancer Center, and the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. The Center for Environmental Medicine, which will house this new research initiative, was launched in 2008 at CSU in partnership with Japan during a trade mission trip involving Gov. Bill Ritter.
Counterparts in Japan are Gifu University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, called NIRS, located in Chiba, which is Japan’s equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. NIRS is home to HIMAC, a heavy ion medical accelerator, in Chiba-- one of only three heavy ion medical accelerators operating worldwide, including another facility in Japan and one in Germany.
“The partnership also solidifies the first joint faculty appointment between a U.S. university and a Japanese research institute, with the hire of a CSU alum and native of Japan with expertise in toxicology and cancer,” said Dr. Bill Hanneman, Director of the Center for Environmental Medicine. “Dr. Takamitsu Kato will begin working at CSU in April and he will travel to NIRS twice a year to pursue research projects using the HIMAC.”
In Japan, 5,000 patients have already been treated with experimental HIMAC therapy. CSU, NIRS and Gifu University will partner on research into heavy ion radiotherapy and eventually embark on clinical trials to treat naturally occurring tumors in larger animals such as cats and dogs, and in humans.
Carbon ion therapy works in a similar way to traditional radiation therapy that uses photons, in that a cancerous tumor is targeted with the goal to destroy cancer cells and tumors. Carbon ions, however, are much larger than photons and their size allows them to cause more havoc and create irreparable damage when they hit a cancer cell. Another benefit: unlike traditional radiation therapies, carbon ion treatments do not damage healthy cells in the path to the tumor. Scientists can control the depth in the body that the ions penetrate, and tailor the “shape” of the energy deposited by the carbon ions to closely match the shape of a tumor. Once the ions reach the tumor, the energy is delivered in a very narrow zone, almost like an explosion within the tumor. The treatment provides doctors with important options when targeting tumors near sensitive structures such as the brain.