HUS investigates radiation therapy treatment for Covid-19 patients

It's a treatment that was popular in the early half of the 20th century, and doctors hope it might also be useful during the current pandemic.

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File picture showing interior of hospital / Credit; iStock

Scientists at the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District HUS are launching a new study to see whether a very small dose of radiation directed at the lungs can affect the progress of severe coronavirus infections.

Radiation therapy in Covid-19 patients would suppress the body’s own defence mechanisms which are triggered when a virus is detected.

Before the era of antibiotics radiation therapy was used in the first half of the 20th century to treat pneumonia caused by bacteria and viruses.

“The idea is that by suppressing the inflammatory response, it is possible to influence the course of the disease” says Johanna Mattson, Chief Physician at the HUS Cancer Center.

The aim of the study which is being launched now, is to alleviate coronavirus infections picked up in hospitals, and prevent it from becoming more intensive. The expected benefits are expected to become apparent quickly to doctors – however, there are risks involved.

“As a long-term disadvantage, radiation doses of this size pose an approximately 1% increased risk of getting a cancerous tumour in the irradiated area within 10 to 20 years” explains Dr Mikko Tenhunen Chief Physician at the HUS Cancer Centre.

“Due to this small risk, only patients over the age of 50 are included in the study” he adds.

Five patients will initially be included in the study and then doctors will assess whether the tests can be expanded. Two other similar projects have recently been launched in other countries.