An Oxford University scientist at the Research Institute of Oxford's Churchill Hospital has invented a new non-toxic compound therapy, based on the Indian spice turmeric, that has shown positive results in the treatment of radiotherapy-induced side effects.
The news comes only a week after researchers at the university of Rochester announced at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology in New Orleans that curcumin, substance in turmeric which makes the spice yellow, could treat burns resulting from the radiation therapy used to treat cancer patients.
Isis Innovation, Oxford University's technology transfer company, said that the potential treatment should be totally harmless as it is composed of food-grade ingredients, the most significant of which is a major chemical constituent of turmeric.
More than 50 per cent of cancer patients receive radiotherapy at one stage in their course of treatment, and normal tissue damage is the most important limiting factor in using this method, said the company. A particular side effect of the treatment of head and neck cancers is a disorder known as mucositis, where the lining of the mouth becomes inflamed and can disintegrate altogether. This can be an extremely painful and debilitating problem for patients who may quickly be forced to forgo solid food.
Other possible side effects of radiotherapy are damage to the spinal chord, possibly leading to paralysis, and damage to the brain which can cause dementia. At present there is no standard treatment for these disorders and the damage caused will often lead to a reduction in the dose of the radiation that may be administered, thereby affecting its efficacy.
Isis said that a combination therapy has been identified that significantly reduces the incidence and shortens the duration of radiation-induced mucositis. The therapy has been studied in a biological model and in this model its effectiveness was startling, according to the research. It has also shown efficacy in preventing central nervous system and skin damage.
Furthermore, as the compound is non-toxic, quick advancement to the clinical trial stage should be possible, according to Isis, which has filed a patent on the invention and is actively seeking partners for the licensing and commercial development of the technology.