Boron-neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is biologically targeted form of radiation therapy. The therapy has been used to treat, for instance, locally advanced head and neck cancers.

The Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center will receive Neutron Therapeutics’ first BNCT accelerator ever designed to be used in a hospital.

Both Finnish and foreign head and neck cancer patients are expected to receive BNCT treatment at the facility in 2021.

Benefits of BNCT

Better therapeutic outcomes.
BNCT has the potential to greatly improve therapeutic outcomes by treating the primary tumor as well as local metastases near the tumor site. Even tumors that are not candidates for surgery because of their location near sensitive biological structures can potentially be treated with BNCT.

Sparing of healthy tissues.
The biologically targeted radiation is delivered primarily to the cancer cells, rather than the healthy tissue. The potential therefore exists to reduce side effects and improve patient’s quality of life compared to conventional radiotherapy.

Less difficult treatment for patient.
Treatments can be carried out in one or two fractions, as opposed to the 30 fractions that are typical of conventional photon and proton therapies. The potential exists to reduce side effects and improve patient quality of life compared to conventional radiotherapy.

Cost savings.
Allowing treatment protocols to be carried out in even as little as a single session saves treatment time thus saving costs.

How does BNCT work

Instead of the need for nuclear reactor, neutrons of suitable energy and quantity for BNCT can nowadays be produced with an accelerator placed in a hospital environment.

Two steps
1.   Patient is injected with boron-containing amino acid solution. As most tumors accumulate amino acids more than healthy tissues, boronated amino acids are taken up at greater quantities by cancer cells.

2.   Patient is exposed to the beam of low energy neutrons, many of which are absorbed by the boron-10. The boron atoms residing in cancer capture the neutrons and split into highly ionizing particles (alpha particles and lithium nuclei) that have a short path length in tissue and destroy selectively tumor cells.

On the right:
Illustration of the BNCT
treatment station with the fully vetted shielding bunker solution. Accelerator (1),
beam shaping assembly (2)
patient positioning system (3) in
patient treatment room.

On the right.
Patient positioned for BNCT treatment.

Studies show that BNCT treatment can be
carried out in one or two fractions compared
with 30 fractions that are typical of conventional
X-ray and proton therapies.
This makes treatments easier for the patient.



Progress of the BNCT-process

The treatment facility has been constructed next to Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center. The installation of a high-performance accelerator based neutron source was successfully completed by Fall 2019. The next step will be testing of the equipment. After successful testing a several month’s phase for clinical trials will take place. Clinical trials are a requirement for CE approval. The CE approval is in turn a prerequisite for starting the BNCT experimental treatments.

Assuming the clinical trials will generate expected treatment results and the CE approval will be received, the experimental treatments can be expected to start during Fall 2020. Treatments for international patients can be expected to start in Fall 2021.

Finnish BNCT expertise

Helsinki University Hospital has high-level cancer research and BNCT expertisewhich creates a good basis for the treatment as well as for future research and development. BNCT was given to 250 patients with glioblastomas or head and neck cancers in Helsinki 1999 – 2011 by using a research nuclear reactor as the neutron source. The results were judged generally favorable. despite BNCT was administered to patients who no longer had a viable standard treatment option available. BNCT was stopped when the nuclear reactor was closed down.

International BNCT patients via HYKSin

The treatments will be provided to Finnish patients as a part of the public healthcare system. In addition, BNCT treatment will be available for international patients via HYKSin Ltd. HYKSin is a subsidiary of HUS Helsinki University Hospital.


Follow updates of the BNCT progress on this page and on HUS Helsinki University Hospital Cancer Center page.