Aug. 9, 2000 A method for treating liver cancer with tiny radioactive glass beads, developed by a UMR researcher and a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has been approved for use in the United States.
Delbert E. Day, Curators' Professor Emeritus of ceramic engineering at UMR, is the co-inventor of this method. The U.S. Federal Drug Administration approved Day's treatment method for use in the United States in February.
The first patients to be treated with radioactive glass beads, now marketed under the name TheraSphere by MDS Nordion, will take place later this year at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The treatment consists of injecting millions of tiny, radioactive glass beads into the main artery supplying blood to the liver. The blood carries the beads into the liver, where they deliver localized radiation to malignant cells in liver tumors.
"Healthy tissue is virtually unaffected, the radiation can be safely delivered, and side effects are minimal," Day says.
Microspheres smaller than a strand of hair
The beads, or microspheres, are 15 to 35 microns in diameter -- "about half the thickness of a human hair," Day says. The beads are made from a special aluminosilicate glass that contains yttrium oxide, a rare-earth element. When the glass beads are placed inside a nuclear reactor for serval days, the yttrium becomes radioactive. The radioactive beads are then injected into the liver, where they irradiate the liver for a period of 3-4 weeks, after which they are no longer radioactive but remain in the liver indefinitely.
Day, who joined the UMR faculty in 1961, and co-inventor Gary J. Ehrhardt of the University of Missouri-Columbia, started their research on the glass beads in 1982. Their first patent was granted in 1988, and since that time they have been granted a total of six U.S. patents and eight foreign patents.
Helping bones to heal
More recently, Day has turned his research efforts toward finding new ways for doctors to treat severely broken bones by using glass pins and surgical sutures to treat those breaks.
Day became interested in glass and its countless uses while a student in ceramic engineering at UMR. "I became interested in the properties and many uses of glass as an undergraduate student at UMR," he says. "I took a course in glass and as a result of that class I prepared a paper and presented it in a student speaking contest at an American Ceramic Society meeting. From then on I had an interest in glass research."
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