Recherche Dutreix Radiothérapie
Another area of research focuses on delivering less radiation but in different ways, by combining different techniques. One of the approaches being studies involves using radiosensitizing agents, which increase the effects of the radiation. An example of this is Dbait, developed at Institut Curie in the 2000s. “These tiny molecules inhibit DNA repair specifically in cancer cells,” explains Marie Dutreix, CNRS Research Director and Head of the Recombination, Repair, and Cancer: From Molecule to Patient team (Inserm/CNRS/Institut Curie). This means they actually increase the efficacy of the radiotherapy. In 2016, a clinical trial in humans demonstrated their value in the local treatment of melanoma. “We are now going to evaluate them with other types of cancer. They could be particularly valuable in children, as they give you a more effective radiotherapy without increasing the dose, so side effects aren’t increased.” Other radiosensitizing agents are also being studied, but the results are mixed: “They are only of use to us if they increase the effects of the radiotherapy on cancer cells only. Otherwise, you risk increasing the side effects in healthy tissue,” explains Dutreix.
In recent years, immunotherapy has emerged as a promising cancer treatment. The approach, which involves stimulating the patient’s immune system so that it attacks cancer cells, is today envisaged as a tool to be used in combination with radiotherapy: “By irradiating cancer cells, radiotherapy triggers off biological mechanisms at a cellular level that can make immunotherapy even more effective,” explains Prof. Poortmans. “The combination of these two approaches will therefore be explored in cancers such as breast cancer or childhood brain cancer, where immunotherapy alone works very poorly or not at all.”
Biology Key to Innovation in Radiotherapy
In order to conduct these kinds of trials, it is essential that researchers understand the mechanisms involved. This is why Institut Curie also carries out numerous basic research programs designed to help us understand why certain biological and/or genetic characteristics found in certain tumors are associated with a lower sensitivity to radiation. Where therapeutic progress once sprung primarily from technological progress in radiation equipment, today innovations are the result of interdisciplinary work and a better understanding of radiotherapy’s mechanisms of action.
copuright: Uriel Chantraine / Institut Curie