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Medical applications of radionuclides and targeted alpha therapy

The JRC carries out research in the area of targeted alpha therapy which is a promising new approach to cancer treatment.

Cancer is one of the main health problems of today. Unfortunately, the treatments that are currently available, even though often effective, cannot permanently cure the majority of cancers. This is typically true for cancers that have formed metastases and have spread around the body. New therapy approaches are therefore urgently needed. Targeted Alpha Therapy is such a new approach to cancer treatment.

Targeted Alpha Therapy is based on the coupling of alpha particle emitting radioisotopes to tumour selective carrier molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies or peptides. These molecules have the ability to selectively target tumour cells even if they are spread throughout the body. They recognize the targeted cancer cells through antigens that are expressed on the cell surface and can bind selectively to these cells, similar to a key fitting into a lock. In targeted alpha therapy, these carrier molecules serve as vehicles to transport the radioisotopes to the cancer cells. This is called the "magic bullet" approach. Radioisotopes that emit alpha particles seem particularly promising to selectively destroy cancer cells. Alpha particles have a high energy in the range of 5-9 MeV and at the same time a very short path length in human tissue below 0.1 mm, corresponding to less than 10 cell diameters. Consequently, the use of alpha emitters allows the specific targeting and killing of individual malignant cells, while minimizing the toxicity to surrounding healthy tissue.

The main activities at JRC in the field of targeted alpha therapy are focussing on:

  • The development of methods for production of alpha emitters with focus on securing the supply of Actinium-225, a highly promising alpha emitter for application in cancer therapy that is currently in limited supply.
  • The development of novel alpha emitter labeled radiopharmaceuticals from bench to bedside, including the development of standardized protocols and guidelines for synthesis and quality control, preclinical studies in vitro and in vivo as well as patient studies conducted in collaboration with a large network of hospital partners in Europe and worldwide.
  • The provision of knowledge transfer and training to hospital staff to ensure safe use of alpha emitters in clinical settings and to support hospitals in capacity building to improve patient access to targeted alpha therapy.
Targeted Alpha Therapy laboratory
Targeted Alpha Therapy laboratory, JRC Karlsruhe
EU, 2021