Marie Curie Helps Patients with Metastatic Prostate Cancer


Anytime you or I feel particularly content with our achievements, we would be well advised to review the biography of Marie Curie. We would then quickly realize that we are unambitious mediocrities who should be much more productive. The magnitude of her accomplishments is dizzying. Virtually everything we know about radioactivity rests on the work of Madame Curie and her husband Pierre. The Curies coined the term radioactivity. She discovered the elements polonium and radium. She received two Nobel Prizes. Your last broken bone was diagnosed thanks to her pioneering work on x-rays.

This week’s news relates to Madame Curie’s discovery of radium-226 over a century ago. She even published a paper describing that tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells when exposed to radium. Radium emits alpha particles which are much more lethal to living cells than x-rays or gamma rays but penetrate living tissue less than a tenth of a millimeter. This would seem to be an ideal treatment for cancer if the radium could be transported to the tumor and not to healthy tissues. The insurmountable problem at Curie’s time was that radium-226 has a half-life of over a millennium and decays to radioactive radon gas, a substance you don’t want inside you.

Fast-forward to the present. Advanced cyclotrons now allow production and purification of specific isotopes that Madame Curie could only dream about, like radium-223. Radium-223 also emits alpha particles, but has a half-life of 11 days and decays to stable chemicals. That means that in a month only about an eighth of the original amount remains. Radium appears chemically to the human body a lot like calcium, so the body transports it rapidly to the bones, especially to areas where bone is being destroyed and rebuilt. Given the tiny tissue penetration of alpha rays, that would seem to be a perfect way to irradiate bone tumors.

This week the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published the ” target=”_blank”>Radium-223 and Metastatic Prostate Cancer (Summary video from the editors of NEJM)
” target=”_blank”>New Drug May Extend Survival for Some Prostate Cancer Patients (US News)
” target=”_blank”>Alpha Emitter Radium-223 and Survival in Metastatic Prostate Cancer (NEJM article)

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