Radiation on trial in Florida as COVID-19 treatment

Dr. Minesh Mehta

Researchers in the United States are exploring the potential for a low-dose radiation treatment to alleviate symptoms in COVID-19 patients who develop pneumonia.

Doctors are hopeful the treatment could work in an anti-inflammatory manner and reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, explained Dr. Minesh Mehta, deputy director of the Miami Cancer Institute.

The institute, a division of Baptist Health South Florida, has joined a network of 14 centres in launching trials of the thoracic radiation treatment, aimed at shortening hospital stays and reducing mortality rates in COVID-19 patients.

Radiation treatment had been tested in a limited manner previously to reduce inflammation in viral pneumonia cases, Mehta said, leading researchers to question if the treatment could improve outcomes in COVID-19 patients.

“A group of us reviewed the literature that’s been published in the past, many, many decades ago, that used radiation as an anti-inflammatory treatment for patients with viral pneumonia and just under 800 patients were treated historically in the past and have been reported on,” Mehta told the Cayman Compass.

“The results, although they are very old, are somewhat promising and somewhat interesting.”

Radiation therapy has also been used to treat inflammation related to joint and autoimmune disorders, and at higher doses to treat cancer.

In the current phase of the COVID-19 study, doctors will seek to analyse 60 coronavirus patients in a randomised trial. Patients selected for the radiation treatment will receive a one-time dose. Each patient will then be followed for a month after treatment and results evaluated by a data and safety monitoring committee, which is an independent group of experts who assess patient safety and treatment-efficacy data during a trial.

The study will only accept COVID-19 inpatients over the age of 50 who have developed pneumonia but have not deteriorated to the stage of requiring a ventilator.

“The concept and the idea of using radiation therapy for an inflammatory condition is, at first, a little bit surprising and sometimes a little bit intimidating to patients and their families,” Mehta said.

“What we do is we use a single dose of radiation. It’s a very low dose of radiation, but it is not risk free. … So, it’s very important that we have a robust discussion with the patient and the family.”

The costs of the study will largely be covered by self-funding provided by partner institutions and supplemented by industry grants.

“I am very positive about the trial,” Mehta said. “I am approaching this as a scientist would. I’m optimistic, but I’m cautiously optimistic and I have to remain neutral.”

Mehta is the co-principal investigator on the study, alongside Dr. Arnab Chakravarti of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Ohio State University.

The radiation study is one of several COVID-19 trials currently being researched by Baptist Health and the Miami Cancer Institute.

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