A Compact Neutron Generator for the Niort® Treatment of Severe Solid Cancers

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Maurizio Martellini Massimo Sarotto Ka-Ngo Leung Giuseppe Gherardi


In the last four years, TheranostiCentre S.r.l., Berkion Technology LLC and ENEA have patented and fabricated a first prototype of a Compact Neutron Generator (CNG) currently under testing in the ENEA laboratories. Besides the usual applications in the field of materials irradiation, this CNG - producing neutrons of 2.45 MeV energy through the deuterium-deuterium (DD) fusion reaction - was conceived for the neutron irradiation of the solid cancer’s tumour bed by means of the Intra-Operative Radiotherapy (IORT) technique, the so-called neutron-IORT (nIORT®). The DD-CNG is self-shielded and light-weight (~120 kg) making possible its remote handling by a robotic arm. Accurate Monte Carlo simulations, modelling the CNG and the “open wound” biological tissues near its irradiation window, demonstrated that the apparatus operated at 100 kV-10 mA supplies a neutron flux ~108 cm-2 s-1 and can deliver equivalent dose rates ~2 Gy (RBE)/min. Hence, it can administer very high dose levels in limited treatment times.

This article briefly summarizes the main findings of this collaborative research study, the clinical rationales underpinning the nIORT® idea and the potential performances of the DD-CNG for the treatment of solid cancer pathologies. Indeed, the CNG can be installed in an operating room dedicated to nIORT® treatments, without posing any environmental and safety issues. Monte Carlo simulations have been carried out by envisioning the CNG equipped with an IORT applicator, that is an applicator pipe with a tuneable diameter to be inserted in the surgical cavity. By foreseeing the clinical endpoints of the standard IORT protocols, the irradiation performances for potential nIORT® treatments - obtained with an applicator pipe of 6 cm diameter - are here reported for different regimes: from 10 up to 75 Gy (RBE), that can be administered in a single session of about 4 to 30 minutes. Besides the dose peak in the centre of the tumour bed, the almost isotropic neutrons emission allows to irradiate its surroundings side-walls – usually filled by potential quiescent cancer cells – and therefore reducing the chances of local recurrences by improving the local control of the tumour. The rapid decrease in tissues depth of the dose profile (in few centimetres) will spare the neighbouring organs at risk from harmful radiations. Thus, the DD-CNG apparatus developed for nIORT® applications can potentially improve the resectability rate of a given neoadjuvant cancer treatment and, generally, could satisfy all five R’s criteria of radiotherapy. Furthermore, in comparing with the current IORT techniques with electrons or low-keV Xrays, the nIORT® exploiting a high-flux neutrons beam of 2.45 MeV energy could lead to some significant clinical advantages due to its high linear energy transfer (~ 40 keV/mm as average) and significantly higher relative biological effectiveness (@16) than all other forms of ionizing radiation.

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MARTELLINI, Maurizio et al. A Compact Neutron Generator for the Niort® Treatment of Severe Solid Cancers. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 3, mar. 2023. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <https://esmed.org/MRA/mra/article/view/3799>. Date accessed: 20 apr. 2024. doi: https://doi.org/10.18103/mra.v11i3.3799.
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