NIU maintains one of three neutron therapy sites in U.S.

By Matthew Rainwater

DeKALB | The NIU Institute for Neutron Therapy at Fermilab is one of only three sites in the U.S. that offers neutron therapy treatment to cancer patients, according to its Web site.

In 2004, NIU assumed management of the facility. They reopened the facility in January of this past year. NIU took control because it was difficult for a hospital to operate, since it’s not a normal function for them, said John Lewis, the principle investigator for the grant to support the NIU Institute for Neutron Therapy at Fermilab.

Neutron therapy is a highly effective form of radiation therapy, according to NIU’s neutron therapy Web site. Neutron therapy blends advanced medical science with accelerator physics developed at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, located in Batavia.

Neutrons are more effective at killing tumors than conventional radiation therapy, according to the neutron therapy Web site. Cure rate depends on the type of cells in the tumor, the size of the tumor and whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, as well as the patient’s general health.

Neutrons reduce the size of the cancer mass. Neutron therapy uses a particle beam to treat the cancer, unlike chemotherapy. This method is different in that it doesn’t do as much damage to healthy tissue, unlike chemotherapy treatment, which does damage healthy tissue. But, this is not always the case, Lewis said.

Currently, there are six to seven patients treated at the facility per day. Lewis hopes to help more patients be treated in the future. In a given year, 100 to 110 patients may be treated.

The institute is embarking on research efforts to demonstrate the usefulness of neutron therapy and investigate its potential for expanded uses. Lewis said they are in the process of building up awareness to this different form of cancer treatment.

Matthew Rainwater is the Science and Technology beat reporter for the Northern Star.