Taking Better Aim at Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Using Proton Therapy

5 November 2019

SingaporeA*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has teamed up with the Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings Pte Ltd (SIAMH) to explore how to better tackle nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), a type of head and neck cancer, through targeted proton therapy.

The two parties are collaborating through an agreement to evaluate and optimise proton therapy for NPC with the use of patient-derived xenografts as well as in vitro 3D organoid models developed at A*STAR’s IBN, specifically for the treatment of recurrent and radioresistant NPC. The parties will also perform research on designing and establishing novel nano-radiotheranostic agents.

NPC that is detected early is often treated by radiotherapy, concurrently with chemotherapy. However, NPC presents a unique treatment challenge for radiation oncologists due to the proximity of cancer tissues to several critical organs and tissues such as the brain, the spinal cord, the salivary gland, and the optical nerves. Any damage to these adjacent structures could severely impair the quality of life of patients following the treatment.

Figure-1---The-treatment-room-of-a-proton-facility - Image-Credit-SIAMH

Proton therapy could help solve some of these existing treatment challenges. It is a newer mode of radiation therapy that allows proton beams to more precisely irradiate the tumour compared to the x-rays used in conventional radiotherapy. This results in sparing damage to nearby healthy tissues and organs, and potentially less treatment-related side effects for patients to enjoy improved quality of life.

“We are excited to partner with SIAMH to explore ways of optimising proton therapy for treating NPC, through leveraging IBN’s expertise in developing tumour models and organoids for disease modelling and therapeutic optimisation,” said Dr. Lucky Sasidharan, Postdoctoral Fellow at A*STAR’s IBN.

“This collaboration offers a great opportunity to mutually apply our technologies and expertise in an innovative fashion for the benefit of cancer patients,” added Dr. Lim Chwee Ming, Adjunct Clinician Scientist at A*STAR’s IBN.

Figure-2---Components-of-the-proton-facility-of-SIAMH - Image-Credit-SIAMH

Dr. Djeng Shih Kien, Chairman and CEO of SIAMH said, “We are very happy to be able to collaborate with A*STAR's IBN and develop a focus group interested in treating Asian cancers like NPC. Although NPC is rare in the Western world, it is common in Asia. There are 300 new cases a year in Singapore alone. It is the 3rd most common cancer in Malaysia, after colorectal and lung cancer.”

Dr. Djeng added: “Singapore is a small country with limited resources and talent pool. SIAMH's first collaboration with IBN is our attempt to bring together leaders of IBN and the private sector in Singapore as well as domestic and international experts to maximise talent usage. Proton Therapy will be available in Singapore by early 2020. It would significantly reduce side effects due to its characteristic tumour targeting abilities which would be very advantageous in sparing critical structures in the case of NPC patients.”

Recently, the group also presented their work at the Australia and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting held at Adelaide[1][1].

NPC is the 9th most common cancer and 7th most frequent cause of cancer related deaths amongst males in Singapore.2 It is often associated with an Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection of the white blood cells and nasal lining at the back of the nose. One of the most common signs of newly-diagnosed NPC is the appearance of one or more lumps in the nose or on the neck.

About the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) is the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology research institute. Established in 2003, IBN’s mission is to conduct multidisciplinary research across science, engineering, and medicine for breakthroughs to improve healthcare and quality of life. IBN’s research activities are focused on Nanomedicine and Biomaterials, Synthetic Xenobiology and Biosystems, Tissue and Organoid Models, and Green and Safe Biomaterials. The Institute has published over 1,320 papers in leading scientific journals, filed over 660 active patents and patent applications on its inventions, and established 12 spin-off companies. For more information on IBN, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg/ibn.

About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit society.

As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by contributing to societal benefits such as improving outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability.

We play a key role in nurturing and developing a diversity of talent and leaders in our Agency and research entities, the wider research community and industry. A*STAR’s R&D activities span biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering, with research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis. For ongoing news, visit www.a-star.edu.sg.

About the Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings Pte Ltd

The Proton Therapy Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of the Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings Pte Ltd (SIAMH), will provide proton beam therapy treatment in Singapore. It is part of a new oncology center that is located at the Biopolis, Singapore. The new oncology center will include a comprehensive diagnostic center providing both imaging and laboratory services using advance medical technologies. Its training facility, the Advanced Medicine Training Centre, will provide the necessary training to the specialists in this part of the world. For more information, search proton.sg.

[1][1] Lucky SS, Law M, Shi J, Yu S, Kwek BH, Djeng SK, Lim CM, Tan MH. Patient-derived Nasopharyngeal Cancer Organoids for Disease and Treatment Modelling: Basis of Personalised Medicine with Proton Irradiation. Australia and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society Conference, Adelaide, Australia; 19-21 September 2019.

2Singapore cancer registry report 2015 (https://www.nrdo.gov.sg/docs/librariesprovider3/Publications-Cancer/cancer-registry-annual-report-2015_web.pdf?sfvrsn=10)

Back to news