Colorado State University proposes new cancer treatment center

Colorado State University is teaming with CU-Denver and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences to create a proposal for a $160 million carbon ion therapy treatment center in Colorado. The facility would be the first of its kind in the United States.

According to Jac Nickoloff, head of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at CSU, the carbon ion therapy treatment does not have any worse side effects than typical radiation treatments and is three times as effective.

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“Carbon ions are much larger than the protons, they have 12 times the mass and they have six times the charge,” Nickoloff said. “It is this mass and charge difference that gives carbon ions a particular advantage over protons.”

Nickoloff said that researches think the treatment may be more effective at battling cancerous cells because the damage to the target cells are more clustered and persistent.

“That means that cells that are not rapidly dividing, like cancer stem cells, might be more effectively killed as well,” Nickoloff said.

Cory Sicard, a graduate student working for Nickoloff, explained the process more simply.

“Carbon nuclei, we radiate them, accelerate them and basically shoot them into a tumor,” Sicard said. “They are basically like wrecking balls.”

According to Nickoloff, the machine will be utilized particularly well at CSU at its Oncology and Radiology Animal Cancer Research Center.

“CSU is a land grant University which has a focus on applying science to serve society,” Nickoloff said. “That is what this project is about.”

Christopher Allen, a CSU Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences assistant professor, said that a Colorado facility would be more substantial than other facilities because of its intended research use.

“Our concept here in Colorado is to have this big research institute that is going to train people to be functional in these fields as well as have abundant research times for people who are like me, who look for results at the end of basic mechanisms of DNA repair,” Allen said.

Though the treatment was developed in the United States in the 1970s, it was later dropped. It was picked up by Japan in 1994, and Allen thinks it is time to bring it over to the United States again.

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“I know for a fact that they have better outcomes for some of these really difficult treatments, and I am regretful that there have yet to be a facility to do that in America,” Allen said.

Nickoloff said that the project simply needs more government support.

“These high-cost machines are one of the barriers,” Nickoloff said. “You really need government backing to get these things started. For one reason or another, our government has not stepped up yet.”

Collegian Science and Technology Beat Reporter Stephanie Mason can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @StephersMason.