- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — University of Maryland researchers are testing radioactive material from Russian military nuclear stockpiles to determine whether it can be used to fight cancer.

The researchers hope to use the uranium extract to attack the blood vessels that feed tumors.

“One of the ways that most solid tumors grow is to induce the body to feed it,” said Dr. Bruce Line, the university’s director of nuclear medicine. “If we can stop that process by cutting off the blood supply to tumors, then we can keep the tumor from growing and also help to reduce its size and keep it from eventually taking the patient’s life.”

Dr. Line said the project is in its early stages and researchers are just now understanding the potential of the extract actinium, a powerful source of alpha waves. Animal trials using the material have not yet been conducted and human trials are not expected to begin for at least three to four years, university officials said.

Dr. Nikolay Marchenkov of the Russian Nuclear Research Center’s Kurchatov Institute said the material previously was used for military purposes in Russia. Speaking through a translator, Dr. Marchenkov said Russian scientists are developing a way to provide enough of the material for future medical use.

The Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia also is studying the radioactive isotopes, University of Maryland officials said.

The researchers will use polymers to hold an actinium derivative and inject it directly into tumors. The challenge is to do the least harm to normal cells, while damaging cancer cells.

“Although these powerful particles can be stopped by a single sheet of plain paper, in the body they are extremely effective in killing cancer cells,” Dr. Line said.

The university will get six to eight shipments of the radioactive isotopes in next few months.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, has gotten $800,000 in funds for the partnership known as the American Russian Cancer Alliance. The “atoms for peace” initiative began two years ago.

“The alliance has sponsored international symposia and workshops in both Russia and the United States — providing a unique venue for these brilliant minds in both countries to work together and learn from each other,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Dr. Stephen Schimpff, director of the university’s cancer center, said the results of preliminary research over the next six months may lead to additional funding from various organizations.

“The word ‘cancer’ still strikes fear in all our hearts,” Dr. Schimpff said. “As the population is aging, we’re going to see more and more cancer.”

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