Radiobiology and Molecular Imaging

Emmanuelle Manck
11/05/2021
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Institut Curie’s researchers are pioneers in the field of radiotherapy, and now bring together new discoveries in biology, radiation physics, and imaging to facilitate advances in cancer treatment.
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Radiobiology 

At the origin of the creation of the Institut Curie, radiobiology studies the effect of radiation on living tissue. In the context of cancer treatment, it is particularly important to understand how to eradicate tumor cells by irradiation while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. Thus, research in radiobiology accompanies the development of new radiotherapy methods. Some teams are seeking to understand how radiation impacts cellular and tumor processes, while others are investigating original methods for delivering radiations. The goal is to target tumor cells more specifically and thus extend the indications of radiotherapy to problematic areas (abdomen, brain, etc.).

The FLASH radiotherapy technique was invented at Institut Curie Research Center and takes advantage of the fact that tumor cells can be destroyed by irradiation delivered in less than a second, while healthy tissue still manage to protect themselves. Dbait molecules, which increase tumor cell responsiveness to radiotherapy, have been successfully here tested on melanoma at Institut Curie. Another promising technique known as “mini-beam” technology is also being developed here: multiple tiny beams target the tumor cells with enough space between the beams so that  healthy tissue cells can regenerate themselves.

With both the Radexp platform and the Proton Therapy Center, we have one of the most powerful technological platforms available to advance radiobiology and novel radiotherapy delivery schemes 

says Marie Dutreix, head of the Radiation biology and Innovation in Radiation Therapy research team.

Molecular Imaging 

Molecular imaging is a set of techniques such as PET scans that allow for the in vivo visualization and mapping of both normal and pathological molecular mechanisms. It is thus possible to characterize non-invasively the molecular abnormalities associated with tumors, to assess tumor heterogeneity and to identify different cell populations: cells showing glucose hypermetabolism indicating tumor aggressiveness, hypoxic cells resistant to radiotherapy, fibroblasts associated with metastatic dissemination or interfering with immunotherapy. Whole-body PET imaging detects the primary tumor, cancer nodes and distant metastases and makes it possible to measure molecular differences to adapt treatments accordingly.

The goal of Institut Curie researchers is to transform molecular imaging into a “virtual biopsy” that enables all tumors to be sampled non invasively. The teams are developing new tracers, imaging methods and image analysis software to identify prognostic and predictive biomarkers and improve our understanding of the mechanisms of response or resistance to treatment. By using artificial intelligence methods to integrate the tumor molecular characteristics of patients revealed by imaging and clinical data, the teams are also building models of response to treatment.

Collecting and combining molecular information from tumor cells, tissues in which tumor and immune cells develop, and from the entire body is a key to understand the complexity of cancer and provide patients with better care

says Irène Buvat, director of the Laboratory of Translational Imaging in Oncology unit (U1288).