Treating infections with ionizing radiation: a historical perspective and emerging techniques

B. van Dijk, J. V.C. Lemans, R. M. Hoogendoorn, E. Dadachova, J. M.H. de Klerk, H. C. Vogely, H. Weinans, M. G.E.H. Lam, B. C.H. van der Wal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: Widespread use and misuse of antibiotics have led to a dramatic increase in the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, while the discovery and development of new antibiotics is declining. This has made certain implant-associated infections such as periprosthetic joint infections, where a biofilm is formed, very difficult to treat. Alternative treatment modalities are needed to treat these types of infections in the future. One candidate that has been used extensively in the past, is the use of ionizing radiation. This review aims to provide a historical overview and future perspective of radiation therapy in infectious diseases with a focus on orthopedic infections. METHODS: A systematic search strategy was designed to select studies that used radiation as treatment for bacterial or fungal infections. A total of 216 potentially relevant full-text publications were independently reviewed, of which 182 focused on external radiation and 34 on internal radiation. Due to the large number of studies, several topics were chosen. The main advantages, disadvantages, limitations, and implications of radiation treatment for infections were discussed. RESULTS: In the pre-antibiotic era, high mortality rates were seen in different infections such as pneumonia, gas gangrene and otitis media. In some cases, external radiation therapy decreased the mortality significantly but long-term follow-up of the patients was often not performed so long term radiation effects, as well as potential increased risk of malignancies could not be investigated. Internal radiation using alpha and beta emitting radionuclides show great promise in treating fungal and bacterial infections when combined with selective targeting through antibodies, thus minimizing possible collateral damage to healthy tissue. CONCLUSION: The novel prospects of radiation treatment strategies against planktonic and biofilm-related microbial infections seem feasible and are worth investigating further. However, potential risks involving radiation treatment must be considered in each individual patient.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
Number of pages11
JournalAntimicrobial resistance and infection control
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Anti-inflammation
  • Biofilm
  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Orthopaedic infection
  • Periprosthetic joint infection
  • Radiation
  • Radioimmunotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • X-rays


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