Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in canton Aargau have developed a method for treating a particularly malignant form of thyroid cancer. A first study of the treatment’s effectiveness will be conducted on patients at the University Hospital of Basel.
The new method is aimed at medullary thyroid carcinoma, which is currently untreatable with available therapies.
The investigators used a protein similar to gastrin, which is a hormone produced by the body, and marked it with a radioactive substance. The substance can attach itself to the surface of tumour cells and then destroy them in a targeted manner with its radioactivity, without harming surrounding tissue.
In one in four cases medullary thyroid carcinoma is transmitted genetically, meaning it can affect children and young adults. PSI chemist Martin Béhé said in a statement on Wednesday that if caught early, the cancer can be cured by surgically removing the thyroid, a large ductless gland in the neck, and administering chemotherapy.
“Once the tumour has metastasised, however, it is virtually incurable,” Béhé said.
The research, which involved testing 12 different radioactively marked proteins until the right one was identified, was conducted by Béhé as well as several other European scientists under the European Cooperation in Science and Technologyexternal link (COST) project.
Once the treatment is approved for clinical trials, it will be tested on patients by doctors at the University of Basel. The study has already received ethics committee approval and is supported by the Swiss League against Cancerexternal link.
swissinfo.ch and agencies