Patients with liver cancer receive treatment with holmium spheres - irradiated by SCK CEN
The Dutch medical device company Quirem Medical recently started using the BR2 research reactor for the production of QuiremSpheres®. QuiremSpheres® are used for treating liver cancer and consist of small radioactive spheres loaded with holmium-166. These spheres can now also be activated in the BR2 research reactor of nuclear research centre SCK CEN. “Thanks to the production of holmium-166, we are helping to step up the fight against liver cancer”, it sounds. In 2020, it was the third most deadly cancer in the world.
In 2020, over 905,000 people across the world were diagnosed with primary liver cancer. In the same year, 830,180 liver cancer patients lost their lives. This makes it the seventh most common and third most deadly cancer in the world. A promising treatment is the use of a therapeutic radioisotope: holmium-166. This radioisotope is injected into the hepatic artery in the form of millions of tiny spheres - each one smaller than a human hair. The holmium spheres, called holmium microspheres, accumulate in the tiniest capillaries of the liver tumours and locally emit their radiation there. The tumours shrink or disappear, while the surrounding healthy liver tissue is spared. Patients with liver cancer for whom surgery is not an option are eligible for this treatment, better known as selective internal radiotherapy (SIRT).
The fact that liver cancer patients can benefit from an SIRT treatment with holmium microspheres is made possible by Dutch medical device company Quirem Medical. Their product QuiremSpheres® is the only commercially available SIRT product based on holmium-166. The so-called microspheres are produced in Deventer, where the company is located. At the time of production, they contain the stable isotope holmium-165. To achieve a therapeutic effect, they must then be “activated”.
This is where the nuclear research centre SCK CEN steps in. “We activate the microspheres in the BR2 research reactor by bombarding them with neutrons”, explains Bernard Ponsard, BR2 stakeholder manager for radioisotope and doped silicon production. It is not the first time the BR2 research reactor has done it. “SCK CEN has been working for years with players in the nuclear medicine field to secure the worldwide supply of medical radioisotopes. We are pleased that we can now also support the production of holmium-166 microspheres and, in doing so, help to step up the fight against liver cancer.”
the rapidly growing demand for our products throughout Europe and beyond.
Recently, the first patients were treated with holmium microspheres irradiated by SCK CEN. “We are delighted, after a period of extensive testing and validation, that we can now use the BR2 research reactor for clinical productions”, says Jan Sigger, CEO of Quirem Medical. “SCK CEN is a strong partner. We value their dedication during the development phase which preceded the first clinical case.”
Both partners expect the demand for holmium-166 to grow. Unlike yttrium-90, which has long been the standard in SIRT, holmium microspheres are visible on MRI and SPECT CT scans. This allows doctors to tailor the dose individually to the patient. Holmium microspheres seem to be the next big thing. “With the high reliability of the BR2 reactor, we are confident that we will meet the rapidly growing demand for our products throughout Europe and beyond”, concludes Sigger (Quirem Medical).
Read the official press release of both partners here.
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