In a small pilot study, researchers are exploring whether low-dose chest radiation therapy may improve lung function in certain critically ill Covid-19 patients, according to a news release from the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta.
“The COVID-19 pandemic inspired us to think outside the box, and we’ve been working with our intensivist colleagues to launch this trial because of its potential to help patients who are desperately ill,” said Dr. Mohammad Khan, an associate professor in the department of radiation oncology in the Emory University school of medicine and a co-principal investigator on the study, in the release.
There are currently five critically ill patients enrolled in the phase I/II clinical trial, with an additional five patients to be added in another group. Those enrolled are given a single treatment of low-dose chest radiation and are followed through a one-week observational period.
Century-old idea: The study was inspired by the historical use of chest radiation to treat pneumonia over 100 years ago, before the development of antibiotics and other modern medicine, Khan said.
“Historical uses of radiotherapy for pneumonia led to a 90% response rate and prevented people from dying. If I am correct, we should see significant responses in Covid patients treated with low dose whole lung radiotherapy,” Khan said.
Investigators hope that those who receive the therapy will see improved pulmonary functioning with a decreased need for mechanical ventilation.
What is radiation therapy? It refers to the use of high-energy beams to induce cell damage by destroying the genetic material that cells need to grow and divide. At high doses, radiation can cause severe tissue destruction and is used to shrink or destroy tumors as part of cancer treatment, according to Mayo Clinic.
But at lower levels, radiation actually reduces inflammation by decreasing the production of certain chemicals called cytokines that are central to the inflammatory process, according to Khan.