Doctors hope a cancer treatment can reduce severe COVID-19 complications

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Doctors are enlisting a treatment typically used to treat cancer patients as a new method to treat COVID-19 inflammation.

The technique is called ultra low-dose, whole lung radiation.

“Ultra low-dose, whole lung radiation therapy (ULD-RT) has been shown to downregulate pro-inflammatory conditions in other diseases,” Dr. Arnab Chakravarti from Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, James Cancer Hospital told News 8. “We hypothesize since the ‘cytokine storm’ appears to lead to serious consequences in the setting of COVID-19, ULD-RT will mitigate the sequelae of the pro-inflammatory effects of the coronavirus in certain cases.”

The cytokine storm is a dangerous, potentially deadly side effect of the virus. The reaction occurs when the body releases too many of the immune-fighting proteins into the blood too quickly. In appropriate doses, the cytokines will attack disease-stricken cells. But an influx will do the opposite and attack the body’s healthy cells instead. Cytokine storms, like the ones doctors are seeing in coronavirus patients, can result in fever, inflammation and multiple organ failure.   

Two clinical trials are currently underway where patients over 50 years old with severe COVID-19 infections will receive a single dose of radiation treatment. Researchers will then monitor these patients over time to determine the mechanism behind and effectiveness of the treatment.  

The goal is to see whether ultra low-dose, whole lung radiation reduces the inflammatory response, said Chakravarti. If so, this could prevent patients from having to be put on a ventilator, enable them to breathe room air, recover from COVID-19-related pneumonia and aid in coronavirus recovery.