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FLASH proton therapy: the future of radiation therapy

FLASH proton therapy: the future of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is one of the most common ways to treat cancer, but it can also cause damage to healthy cells along with the cancer cells it is destroying. For that reason, oncology researchers around the world continue to investigate for less invasive therapies. One of these researchers is SCCA Proton Therapy Center’s medical director, Dr. Jing Zeng, who is collaborating with a large team to spearhead one of the few ultra-high-dose-rate (FLASH) radiotherapy research efforts using  proton therapy in the United States. The goal is to incorporate FLASH technology into existing proton therapy to treat cancer patients.

FLASH radiation therapy uses ultra-high-speed radiation (which gives radiation 100 to 1000 times faster than usual) to decrease side effects from radiation treatment. Only a few institutions can do this type of research because of the amount of technical expertise needed.

For the past two years, Dr. Zeng and her team have been studying FLASH radiation therapy using protons at UW Medicine with some promising results, especially regarding the reduction of side effects. The research team presented these findings at the recent International Flash Radiotherapy & Particle Therapy Conference in Vienna, Austria.

Researchers still don’t know why FLASH radiation therapy reduces side effects, but one theory is that the ultra-high rate of radiation delivery depletes oxygen in the healthy surrounding tissue, which protects it from radiation. “FLASH radiation therapy, including protons, could potentially revolutionize the way we treat patients with cancer,” says Dr. Zeng. “It would mean we can cure more patients and improve their quality of life.”

The next step in Dr. Zeng’s research is to begin preclinical trials at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center. Dr. Zeng will continue expanding her research work, with the goal of treating patients in the future. A large team of physicists, engineers, radiation biologists, and radiation oncologists will be working together on the project. To support these efforts, the team received a $1 million grant from the KUNI Foundation, an organization that funds vital cancer research.

If you have questions about FLASH proton therapy, please reach out to us at info@seattleprotons.org.