A new boron-based cancer therapy slows tumor growth in mice without side effects.

Cancer treatment often requires the use of radiation-based chemotherapy, which is known to carry significant side effects, including hair loss, fatigue, easy bleeding, nausea, and damage to internal organs.

However, a research team at the University of Missouri (MU) has successfully carried out a new boron-based radiation treatment on mice with cancerous tumors. Scientists drastically slowed the tumors’ growth with no apparent side effects.

Professor M. Frederick Hawthorne, a recent winner of the National Medal of Science bestowed by President Obama, led a team at MU’s International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine. The group developed a cancer-killing mechanism that spares surrounding tissues.

The study, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved mice, but Hawthorne’s team is preparing to test its treatment on larger animals and eventually humans.

“A wide variety of cancers can be attacked with our BNCT technique,” Hawthorne said in a press release.

BNCT stands for “boron neutron capture therapy,” and it works by encouraging highly absorbent cancer cells to take in a boron-based chemical that Hawthorne designed.

Next, the cancer cells are exposed to neutrons, which causes the boron atoms inside the cells to explode. The cancer cells are torn apart and effectively destroyed without harming nearby healthy cells.

Hawthorne and his team are pursuing funding to expand their research—and while most scientific advancements take time to scale up and be implemented, Hawthorne has several unique advantages.

He’s already been recognized by the White House and has an active interdisciplinary team working diligently on the boron research. MU is also home to the largest university research nuclear reactor in the country.

“Before we can start treating humans, we will need to build suitable equipment and facilities. When it is built, MU will have the first radiation therapy of this kind in the world,” said Hawthorne.