Study shows cerium-134 could help advance targeted cancer treatment

Photo of Katherine Shield (from left), Dahlia An, Tyler Bailey at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Marilyn Sargent/Berkeley Lab/Courtesy
Katherine Shield (from left), Dahlia An, Tyler Bailey at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Tuesday, Nov. 17 in Berkeley, California. Researchers in Rebecca Abergel's lab have developed cerium-134, a radioisotope that could be used as an imaging agent for a promising form of cancer treatment known as targeted alpha therapy.

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In a recently published study, researchers identified ways to produce and purify cerium-134, a radioisotope that could help advance forms of cancer treatment.

As a collaborative effort, the study was conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and UC Berkeley. Researchers from the labs have found a way to use cerium-134 as an imaging agent for a promising form of cancer treatment known as targeted alpha therapy, or TAT.

“We sought to understand if we could make this new isotope available for the larger community, and whether it would be useful for nuclear medicine as a new radiotracer that would guide the development of new targeted alpha therapies,” said UC Berkeley principal investigator Rebecca Abergel in an email.

According to Abergel, the process of TAT involves radioisotopes that emit high-energy particles. When attached to a targeting molecule, the radioisotope can be delivered to cancer cells within the body and destroy them once close enough, she added.

The targeted nature of this treatment allows for the radioisotope to destroy tumors but leave healthy tissue untouched, said Los Alamos National Laboratory principal investigator Stosh Kozimor.

“We all know someone who’s had cancer and went through some sort of non-targeted treatment,” Kozimor said. “The side effects can be gruesome, but if you’re applying a medication that only kills the diseased tissue and not killing healthy tissue, that minimizes negative side effects.”

According to Kozimor, two targeted alpha therapeutics that are getting a lot of attention are actinium-225 and thorium-227. However, the “major drawback” with these isotopes is that nuclear medicine imaging techniques are unable to capture them, Abergel noted.

Kozimor added that in order to make this treatment viable, researchers must be able to image where the medicine is going in a living host. The researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory have found a way to do this through cerium-134.

“The idea here is that we would use the same architecture for the molecules but replace the alpha-emitting isotope with something that we can image — which is the cerium-134 that we’ve developed here,” Abergel said.

Through this study, the researchers have developed a method to produce cerium-134 on a large scale, which gives them the potential to watch the medicine work as it is administered. It would also help doctors to identify whether or not a dose has been successful, Kozimor said.

Abergel added that the next steps for the study would be to image the TAT in a cancer model and to make it widely available afterward.

“In the old days, when you think about some of the big breakthroughs that have happened — at least in terms of radiochemistry, nuclear chemistry and nuclear science — it was a group of people that came together with common cause to overcome significant obstacles,” Kozimor said. “This project had that.”

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.