Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

Nuclear War Against Cancer

Los Alamos, in partnership with other national laboratories, has developed a specialized radioisotope to wipe out tumors without harming healthy cells.
March 8, 2016
Artist visualization of a miniature nuclear bomb attached to a cancer cell

A short-lived, highly radioactive isotope that is selectively delivered to cancerous cells within the body could change humanity’s fortune against several particularly deadly types of cancer.

“The optimal radioisotope needs to show up, kill the tumor, and then go away.”

A treatment called radioimmunotherapy (RIT) delivers specialized radioisotopes directly to tumors within a patient’s body by targeting cancer cells that express a distinctive antigen on their outer surfaces. Not all cancers produce such an antigen, and therefore not all cancers
 can be treated with RIT, but those that do include heavy hitters such as prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma (skin), leukemia (bone marrow), and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (blood).

Los Alamos scientists have obtained promising results in clinical trials with the isotope actinium-225, which delivers a rapid-fire quadruple burst of radiation and then becomes nonradioactive.