A new technique for causing boron atoms to explode inside tumors may provide a better way to attack certain cancers, according to chemist Stephen B. Kahl of UC San Francisco. Kahl uses porphyrin molecules similar to those found in the hemoglobin of blood as carriers to concentrate atoms of the rare but non-radioactive isotope boron-11 inside tumor cells. The tumor is then irradiated with so-called slow neutrons from a nuclear reactor.
The slow neutrons do not harm healthy tissue. But they are captured by boron-11, causing the atoms to fission, or break apart, into smaller atoms and releasing energy that destroys the tumor cells.