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Every year, some 70,000 people in Belgium suffer from cancer, with many of them dying from the disease. Professor Jo Van Ginderachter (VUB-VIB) and his team have developed an innovative cancer treatment in which they successfully combined radiotherapy and immunotherapy for the first time. This allows doctors to treat the tumour more precisely and effectively, significantly increasing a patient’s chances of survival.
With the new technique, the radioactive substances used in classic cancer treatments are linked to nanobodies. These antibodies are administered intravenously, i.e. with a syringe into a vein. They act as carriers and bind to macrophages in the patient’s body, a common type of cell in tumours that are mainly located in regions of the tumour that are resistant to radiation. In this way, the radioactive substances can be directed to the nucleus of the tumour.
Slowing down growth
Tests on breast tumours have shown that this treatment slows down the growth of the tumours, and that the therapy is also effective for tumours that are resistant to other forms of therapy. Further research should now show whether this combined treatment also works in other forms of cancer.
“What is exceptional about this therapy is that we combine the strengths of two existing techniques into a more effective treatment: we have the radioactive substances of radiotherapy that fight cancer cells and the immunotherapeutic use of nanobodies in order to be able to direct the radiation very specifically to the place in the tumour where it is needed the most,” says Prof Van Ginderachter. “This is certainly an important step forward that can increase the chances of survival and recovery of cancer patients.”