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Experimental Mesothelioma Therapy Shrinks Mouse Tumors by 80 Percent

An innovative approach to mesothelioma treatment being developed in Italy has produced results researchers call “very promising”. The treatment reduced the size of mesothelioma tumors in  mice by 80 to 85 percent in just over a month.

Noninvasive image-guided Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) utilizes the unique properties of boron to destroy mesothelioma cells from the inside out.

It has been used as an alternative to conventional radiation therapy for the treatment of malignant brain tumors and recurrent head and neck cancers.

The new Italian study is the latest to evaluate this approach for patients with malignant mesothelioma, a hard-to-treat membrane cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Boron Neutron Capture Therapy for Mesothelioma

BNCT is a two-step cancer treatment approach. First, a patient is injected with a drug containing the non-radioactive isotope boron-10. Because of the nature of cancer cells, boron-10 becomes more concentrated in these cells than in healthy tissues.

In the second step, the patient receives radiation with epithermal neutrons. These neutrons are absorbed by the boron, which then emits high-energy charged particles that kill the cancer cell. As long as a mesothelioma cell has absorbed enough boron, the BNCT process is lethal to the cell.


Mesothelioma tumors are notoriously difficult to treat with radiation because of their uneven shape and location. BNCT is an intriguing prospect for mesothelioma treatment because it may minimize the possibility of damaging nearby organs like the lungs and heart.

Testing BNCT in Mesothelioma Mice

In the new study, researchers in chemistry, physics, and molecular biology at Italy’s University of Torino used a delivery method that targeted the boron to cells that overexpressed Low Density Lipoprotein receptors.

They then used MRI imaging to evaluate the boron absorption in mesothelioma-infected mice and found that the mesothelioma cells did, indeed, absorb much more of the isotope than surrounding healthy tissues did.

Mesothelioma tumor growth in the mice was then moniotred for 40 days using MRI.

“Tumor masses of boron-treated mice showed a drastic reduction of about 80 to 85%,” writes Diego Alberti, first author on the paper published in the Journal of Controlled Release. “The obtained results appear very promising providing patients affected by this rare disease with an improved therapeutic option.”

New options for mesothelioma are desperately needed since conventional cancer treatments are rarely effective. Many of the longest-lived mesothelioma survivors have used a combination of standard and alternative cancer therapies as well as dietary and lifestyle changes to extend their lives.


Alberti, D, “An innovative therapeutic approach for malignant mesothelioma treatment based on the use of Gd/boron multimodal probes for MRI guided BNCT”, May 3, 2018, Journal of Controlled Release, Epub ahead of print

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