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Astronomy could yield cancer treatments

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 24 (UPI) -- U.S. astronomers say information gleaned from studying the universe and its billions of stars could lead to new cancer treatment therapies.

Ohio State University astronomers studying how chemical elements emit and absorb radiation inside stars and around black holes are working with medical physicists and radiation oncologists to develop potential new radiation treatments meant to be tougher on tumors but gentler on healthy tissue, an OSU release said Friday.

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The astronomers discovered that heavy metals such as iron can emit low-energy electrons when exposed to X-rays at specific energies.

The finding raises the possibility that implants made from certain heavy elements could enable doctors to obliterate tumors with low-energy electrons while exposing healthy tissue to much less radiation than is possible today, researchers said.

"We believe that nanoparticles embedded in tumors can absorb X-rays efficiently at particular frequencies, resulting in electron ejections that can kill malignant cells," OSU research scientist Sultana Nahar said.

The idea is to focus radiation treatments more tightly by using narrow, particular X-ray frequencies, researchers said.

"From a basic physics point of view, the use of radiation in medicine is highly indiscriminate," OSU astronomer Anil Pradhan said. "Really, there has been no fundamental advance in X-ray production since the 1890s, when Roentgen invented the X-ray tube, which produces X-rays over a very wide range."

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While typical therapeutic hospital X-ray machines generate full-spectrum X-rays, hospitals could employ the new techniques using only X-rays of narrow frequencies, which would greatly reduce a patient's radiation exposure, the scientists said.

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