A microbeam which fires radiation particles at cancer cells one at a time is helping scientists to refine radiotherapy techniques.

The Gray Cancer Institute says their work may lead to more potent treatment with fewer side effects.

The researchers have found the particles kill cells they hit directly – but also trigger them to tell neighbouring cells to commit suicide.

The work is published in the journal Cancer Research.

The researchers, funded by Cancer Research UK, were among the first to develop the microbeam, which fires a beam of helium ions just a thousandth of a millimetre wide.

In the new study, they grew brain cancer cells that they knew were highly resistant to conventional radiotherapy in culture dishes and targeted single cells with the beam.

Hitting just one cell among 1,200 sent a significant proportion of cells in the dish on the path to suicide.

More here.