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Biotech Science

Anti-Matter's Potential in Treating Cancer 216

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the healthy-physics dept.
eldavojohn writes "The BBC is taking a look at how atomic physicists are developing cancer treatments. A step past radiotherapy, the CERN institute is publishing interesting results: 'Cancer cells were successfully targeted with anti-matter subatomic particles, causing intense biological damage leading to cell death.' The press release from last year is finally sparking interest in the medical community."
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Anti-Matter's Potential in Treating Cancer

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  • Ah yes.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ravenshrike (808508) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:39PM (#18284860)
    Because setting off miniature broad-spectrum emp blasts inside your body it a GOOD thing.
  • brilliant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:42PM (#18284870) Homepage
    There are a lot of things that kill cancer cells. It's finding the things that kill exclusively cancer cells that's the hard part.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by MisterCookie (991581)
      You mean my acid bath treatment isn't a good idea?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        You think you're surprised? I've been spraying myself with positrons every morning for the past five years to look younger!
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Flodis (998453)

          You think you're surprised? I've been spraying myself with positrons every morning for the past five years to look younger!
          You should've used tachyons.
    • Re:brilliant (Score:4, Informative)

      by zebadee (551743) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:48PM (#18284942) Homepage
      Thats kind of the purpose of the article, if you read it. They compare using charged particle beams to traditional radiotherapy treatment and comment that using particle beams allows the raditation to be better focused on the tumour (in this case a spinal tumour), leading to less death of surrounding tissue.
      • Re:brilliant (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:33AM (#18286246) Homepage Journal
        What's wrong with a gamma knife? (Uses eight sources, none of which are exceptionally dangerous in themselves, such that the area of overlap is totally lethal.)

        For that matter, since cancer cells tend to generate heat, the cancerous region should be nearer the point of cell death than non-cancerous tissue. Use microwaves to raise the water temperature such that healthy cells will still be below the threshold but cancer cells are cooked.

        Alternatively, cancer cells must pull in far more amino acids than healthy cells simply to duplicate so rapidly. Synthesize some amino acids that use an isotope you know the frequency for a-la x-ray fluorescence. Beam in some x-rays at the required frequency. The isotope will absorb them and emit electrons. Because the cancerous cells have more of the isotope, they will have more electrons blasting around. I would have thought you could do some really nasty things to the cancer before the healthy cells even noticed the extra charge on their bill.

        • Re:brilliant (Score:4, Informative)

          by imsabbel (611519) on Friday March 09, 2007 @03:07AM (#18286388)
          gamma knife= bad at best, horrible in practice. There IS NO SAFE LEVEL FOR IONIZING RADIATION. Splitting it in 8 beams only increases the amount of affected tissue. The only reason its in use is that its marginally better than dying.

          Bragg-peak of decellerating particles== huge dosage in a very tiny volume, relatively little interaction of the particles during the inition part of ther journey through the body.

          And, as i post this right now from beamline 8.0 of the Advanced Light Source in berkeley, i can tell you that biological molecules have nice brought absorption spectra, and while there might by sharp pi-resonances, those are smeared out a lot in liquid solutions (plus, the carbon edge is really crowded, there is no empty space to "design a molecule" to.
          • by Ihlosi (895663)
            gamma knife= bad at best, horrible in practice. There IS NO SAFE LEVEL FOR IONIZING RADIATION.

            That's not necessary. The function of tissue_damage(irradiation) only needs to be nonlinear, and preferably start out fairly flat and increase in steepness with increasing irradiation.

            Pretty much every effective cancer treatment has fairly nasty side effects. Did you know that the first chemotherapy agents were direct derivatives of mustard gas ?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by hondo77 (324058)

            gamma knife= bad at best, horrible in practice. There IS NO SAFE LEVEL FOR IONIZING RADIATION. Splitting it in 8 beams only increases the amount of affected tissue. The only reason its in use is that its marginally better than dying.

            As someone whose wife went under the gamma knife, I have to tell you that you are full of shit...at best. She went under in the morning to zap a brain tumor and I took her home that afternoon (or was it the next morning?--I forget which). The tumor was completely destroyed

        • by Goaway (82658)
          Oh man, you just cured cancer! I guess it's a nobel prize for you!
    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:43AM (#18286004)
      It's finding the things that kill exclusively cancer cells that's the hard part.

      You mean like this...

      Reo-virus [abheritage.ca], or respiratory enteric orphan virus, is naturally occurring and believed to cause mild infections of the upper respiratory and gastro-intestinal tract in humans. However, in testing mice with implanted human cancer tumours, Lee and his team of researchers were able to show that reo-virus also has the ability to selectively kill a wide variety of cancer cells.

      ...Lee's findings have indicated that approximately two thirds of cancers cells bear an active Ras pathway and the remaining cells can be treated with a particular chemical to deactivate their anti-bodies against viruses.

      If only treatments like these were ready in 2005... My wife of 20 years was diagnosed with a brain tumor (GBM) Thanksgiving 2005 and died in January 13, 2006. Nothing is special any more...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        Yea, my mother died of the same thing last year (she went into surgery a year ago yesterday). Those sorts of treatments are years away at best, and even if they're exceptionally effective, they still may not be set up for killing an aggressive fast spreading cancer like a Glioblastoma Multiforme...Right now those are pretty much universally fatal.

        Anyway, it's always easy to say, "Well they should have rushed this thing forward" but the truth of it is, they've cured a lot of types of cancer...in mice. Making
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:42PM (#18284874)

    Sounds too newfangled and high tech for me.

    I'd prefer it if they used they did what they did back in my great-great-grandfather's time: the Shotgun Method
    The doctor/vet/farmboy would place the muzzle of the shotgun to the tumour and blast it out. Sure, there's some peripheral damage and blood loss but it's tried and true. Sucks if you use it to treat testicular cancer, but a light 410 load of birdshot, some frozen peas and you'd be back on your feet in 8 months.

  • by thomasdz (178114) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:42PM (#18284878)
    That you need Dilithium crystals and a Scottish engineer to make it work effectively.
    (either that or you need to reverse the polarity of something or other and channel the output through the main sensor grid) ...or am I mixing up TV with reality again? :-)

    TDz.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:42PM (#18284880)
    Warp speed cancer treatment!
    • by countach (534280)
      In other news, and explosion centred on London hospital with the energy of a thousand suns obliterated central London yesterday.....
  • Can someone please explain what Anti-matter actually is? Is it matter just misnamed and slightly different? Is it the absence of matter?

    Could I hold it?

    How do you make it?
    • Antimatter is... just as it sounds. The opposite of matter.

      Click here for more info [wikipedia.org]
      • by radtea (464814) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @11:18PM (#18285162)
        Antimatter is... just as it sounds. The opposite of matter.

        "Matter" in ordinary parlance has various important properties: solidity, resistance to motion (otherwise known as mass) and so on.

        Anti-matter has every single one of these properties, so it is not particularly helpful to say it is "the opposite of matter" because it is not.

        Anti-matter is simply matter that consists of anti-particles, as correctly indicated by the article you link. Anti-particles are just like ordinary particles except that they have the opposite charge, parity or magnetic moment (in the case of neutrons). This minor change results in a fairly large cross-section for mutual annihilation when an anti-particle scatters off of its corresponding particle.
      • by Tim C (15259)
        Antimatter is... just as it sounds. The opposite of matter.

        No it isn't, not at all. An anti-particle is identical to the corresponding particle, except that certain properties are reversed. For an easy-to-grasp example, the anti-electron has a positive electrical charge, while the anti-proton has a negative electrical charge. (Obviously it's not that simple, and other quantum-mechanical properties are reversed too, such as spin). It would be truer to say that anti-matter is the "mirror reflection" of matter
    • by HBI (604924) <kparadine AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:54PM (#18285002) Homepage Journal
      A complete set of mirror image subatomic particles. The antimatter analogue to the electron is the positron, etc.

      No you can't hold it. It annihilates matter when it comes into contact with it, releasing a burst of energy.

      Theoretically the Big Bang created equal amounts of matter and antimatter, but we're wondering where the antimatter is...maybe whole galaxies are composed of it? There's no way to tell from the light - photons are the same whether generated by matter or antimatter.

      Short of that, small amounts are created in particle accelerators and in the upper atmosphere, I believe.

      As usual, Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is helpful.
      • It annihilates matter when it comes into contact with it, releasing a burst of energy.

        My understanding [which I admit is limited and may actually be completely lacking :-)] is that the anti-matter particles annihilate contacting matter when at (or close to) rest.

        The idea for use in medical treatment is to propel anti-matter at such velocity so as to pass harmlessly through the body and to come to rest within the tumor, thus annihilating matter at that point.

        Was I even close? (Be nice, I tried.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        > [antimatter is] A complete set of mirror image subatomic particles.
         
        ...each with a tiny, tiny goatee.
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @11:16PM (#18285158) Homepage Journal
      Can someone please explain what Anti-matter actually is?

      It is kind of like negative Mod points. They anialate your Karma.
             
      • by metlin (258108) *
        It is kind of like negative Mod points. They anialate your Karma.

        And apparently, your spelling too! =)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      Get a copy of Prof Hawkins' "A brief History of Time". He explains it all really well and there is only one formula in the book.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by gtall (79522)
      Think of matter as a politician and antimatter as truth. A politician cannot hold truth without being totally annihilated in a orgasm of Klieg lights and profuse sweating.

      Gerry
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @10:58PM (#18285036)
    Time of Death: 2:30pm

    Cause: Drug overdose

    Location: A little bit over here,little bit over there, and significant portions missing.
  • Didn't they already cure cancer with dichloroacetate? http://www.wanderings.net/notebook/Main/CheapSafeD rugKillsMostCancers/ [wanderings.net]
    They are going a long ways out of their way to find patentable treatments that are more profitable.
  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @11:09PM (#18285114)
    ...antimatter beings have just discovered that cancer may be treatable with particles of ordinary matter.
  • of manufacturing antimatter.. cause there's only one thing more simple to build than a rocket engine, and that's an antimatter rocket engine. The potential for space technology is enormous.. if only antimatter didn't cost so damn much.
  • Atomic physicists work on electron structure of atoms -- not on subatomic particles. You'd think being a techie site that Slashdot wouldn't get its science wrong so often; but it seems the fucktard editors always let the side down.

  • The photo shown in the article is that of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which will (when operational) circulate two beams of protons at 7 TeV. The total energy in the beam is 360MJ so I really doubt that you will want to use that to cure a brain tumour....although if you did I suppose it would be the first time where particle physics literally made someone's head explode!
  • by hirschma (187820) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:22AM (#18285574)
    Colon cancer victims are going to give the command "jettison the warp core" a new meaning...
  • Is there anything Cern can't do?
  • why it makes sense (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:25AM (#18286216) Homepage

    First off, heavy ion beams make sense as a way of treating cancer. The reason is that when a heavy ion passes through matter, it decelerates along a straight-line path, and deposits a very large percentage of its energy near the very end of its path. If you compare with x-rays as a radiation treatment, x-rays deposit energy in an exponential-decay pattern, so if you're treating a brain tumor with a pencil beam of x-rays, the tissue that gets hit with the most radiation is the skin, followed by the skull, followed by the good parts of the brain, followed by the tumor. Now in reality you don't use a pencil beam, you use a focused beam, so it's not quite that bad, but focusing also works with heavy ion beams (I believe you actually rotate the patient, not the beam). So with heavy ion beams, you get energy concentrated near the tumor for two different reasons: (a) focusing, and (b) the pattern of energy loss, which is peaked at the end of the trajectory.

    OK, now about antimatter. An amazing number of posters apparently (a) haven't read the article, (b) haven't understood the article, or (c) don't know enough physics to make heads or tails of any of this.

    1. Antimatter is the same as matter except that it has the opposite charge.
    2. No, you don't have to handle samples of it. They make antiprotons in a particle accelerator, and in the experiment, they delivered it to a sample of hamster cells suspended in gelatin. You'd just put the patient in the beam of the accelerator. This has already been done with beams of protons on real patients. There's absolutely no difference, in principle, between delivering a beam of protons to the tumor and delivering a beam of antiprotons.
    3. Yes, antimatter is the most expensive stuff ever made. No, that isn't particularly relevant, because you're not feeding it to the patient in gram quantities.
    4. At present, there is no dedicated medical facility where patients could get exposed to a beam of antiprotons, and there may never be. What you'd have to do, for the foreseeable future, is bring your patient to a particle acclerator, get him some beam time, and place him on the receiving end of the beam. Although beam time is incredibly expensive, it's not necessarily true that you'd have to pay for 1 hour of beam time in order to give the patient 1 hour of treatment. There may be times when the accelerator is being tested, and the beam would otherwise just be wasted. There may be times when someone is doing an experiment with 1 femtoamp of antiprotons, but they can spare 0.01 femtoamps of their beam to be diverted to the patient. Or there may be times when it's just not possible to book 100% of the available beam time for physics experiments (e.g., something goes wrong with an experiment, and they can't use the rest of their beamtime).
    5. The reason a beam of antiprotons is four times more effective than a beam of protons is that after the antiproton delivers a bunch of energy through electrical interactions with electrons, it then annihilates itself with one of the protons in a nucleus in the tumor. This is such an energetic process that I imagine every single proton and neutron in that nucleus goes zipping off separately, with energies in the MeV range. These neutrons and protons then deposit their energy in the tumor as well.
    • by bo-eric (263735)

      x-rays deposit energy in an exponential-decay pattern, so if you're treating a brain tumor with a pencil beam of x-rays, the tissue that gets hit with the most radiation is the skin, followed by the skull, followed by the good parts of the brain, followed by the tumor

      Well, no, not really. Electrons deposit energy like you described. Indirectly ionizing radiation, such as high energy gamma radiation have an effect called "build-up", which makes it deposit its maximum amount of energy at a depth. 20 MV bremss

  • It turns out, blowing up and irradiating cells kills them! And you thought science didn't accomplish anything.
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday March 09, 2007 @05:04AM (#18286792) Homepage Journal
    It just dawned on me: the solution to curing cancer is to cross it with anti-cancer!
  • by styryx (952942) on Friday March 09, 2007 @08:13AM (#18287428)
    Disclaimer: Physicist.

    E=mc^2, anyone? Anti-matter would be impossible to use here.

    The misconception arises in that the methods used to create anti-matter (i.e. particle accelerators) are being employed in order to treat cancer. Think of it more as a particle beam treatment. Instead of using X-rays, they are using ion-beams to target the cancer. This reduces collateral damage by orders of magnitude and so is an extremely good alternative to Chemotherapy. NB: It is not a cure; at least not at this stage. There is more news to come next week from the same people, btw... good news!

    Please can someone change the article to correct that anti-matter is not being used.
  • Radiation treatment for cancer is a desperate measure, something doctors do because they don't really know how to treat the actual cancer.

    At $200-$300 million (!) per particle accelerator, capable of treating about 2000 patients per year, it seems doubtful to me that this is actually worth it.

    Successes in non-radiation cancer treatments shows that through studying cancers and the underlying mechanisms, researchers can come up with targeted, rational treatments. Every single one of those particle accelerato
    • 200000000 dollars divided by (2000 patients per year times 20 years of operation) equals 5000 dollars per patient!

      Considering only the vast positive economic impact of getting a cancer sufferer out of hospital where they're costing money and into the labour pool where they're making it a cancer treatment would be worth it at a much higher price.
      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        200000000 dollars divided by (2000 patients per year times 20 years of operation) equals 5000 dollars per patient!

        You forgot the costs to actually run the thing.

      • No, sorry, that calculation doesn't work. There are plenty of similar cancer treatments available. The question is what number of patients per year have a meaningfully better outcome because of this treatment compared to existing, much cheaper treatments, and that number is likely to be small.

        More importantly, the $300m that this costs is gone once it's spent: it treats a fixed number of patients, nothing more. In contrast, if you spend the same $300m on research, you generate knowledge and treatments th

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