Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. In fact, nearly 18 million people die each year, and cardiovascular disease accounts for 31% of all causes of death. In addition, as written in this Science4life article, contrary to popular belief, it affects women more than men (read the reasons by clicking on the link provided in the article).

But today, we’re talking about a story with a happy ending; about a patient with very aggressive ventricular arrhythmia that causes continuous and dangerous fluctuations in his heart rhythm, and about a proton accelerating machine, invented to treat tumors.

But what do protons have to do with cardiovascular disease?

The answer is Hadron therapy. A subject that I have dealt with in a previous article but that I summarize here briefly. Hadron (particle) therapy is a treatment that uses an accelerator capable of generating beams of protons and carbon ions. We can define it as an advanced form of radiotherapy, but it has the advantage of being much more precise and it therefore has far fewer side effects.

Hadron therapy is a technique that has recently been adopted as a cure, and there are only five centres in the world that are equipped with an accelerator that, as you can well imagine, is not really a pocket-sized instrument! One of these centres is located in Italy (and to be precise, in Pavia) is the CNAO National Centre for Oncological Hadron therapy.

Hadron therapy has so far been used only for the treatment of radio-resistant and inoperable tumors such as brain tumors and pediatric solid tumors. Since March 2017, it’s become part of the LEAs (Essential Levels of Care); i.e. the costs associated with treatment are reimbursed by the National Health Service.

What are the problems of cardiovascular diseases?

But back to cardiovascular disease. The first patient with a cardiovascular problem, who underwent treatment with Hadron therapy, was a 73-year-old patient suffering from a severe form of dilated cardiomyopathy and was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Milan. Unfortunately, the previous treatments were unsuccessful, so the doctors decided to alter the therapy and rely on CNAO (Centro Nazionale di Adroterapia Oncologica), although there was no experience with the use of protons for the treatment of arrhythmias. Protons have a very low impact on the surrounding tissues and therefore preserve the functions of the heart muscle.

The first step was made for a wider use of Hadron therapy, a very promising technique we’ve already talked about. The St. Matthew Polyclinic and, to be precise, the Cardiology Arhythmology Unit, is evaluating the feasibility of carrying out an experimental clinical study. This means that patients suffering from arrhythmias will be enrolled, treated with Hadron therapy and followed throughout the post-treatment phase.

This is a wonderful example of synergies between Italian structures of excellence, in this case favored by geographical proximity, but we know that, in order to collaborate, it’s not enough to live nearby — you need a lot of good will.


This post is also available in: Italiano


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