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Light could be used to treat cancer

7th November 2011

A new light-based therapy may one day be able to destroy cancerous tumours in humans, according to a recent US study on mice.

cancercell

Researchers were able to destroy tumour cell tissue selectively using light near the infrared end of the light spectrum.

Lead researcher Hisataka Kobayashi, chief scientist in the Molecular Imaging Program at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Centre for Cancer Research, said that scientists could also modify the technique in order to monitor the results of cancer treatments.

Previous studies had shown that light could destroy cancer cells, but that it also destroyed normal cells at the same time.

In many cases, the mouse tumours disappeared after only a small amount of drugs had been used, with the light doing most of the work.

The new type of therapy which involves targeting tumours is called photoimmunotherapy, and has only been tested in mice so far.

For the study, the researchers made use of a monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) in order to have a way of chemically targeting tumours.

MAbs inherently bind to the surface of various proteins, and since tumour development involves the over-expression of one protein or another, the researchers were able to target specific cancers.

HER2 is the name of a protein produced by breast cancer tumour cells, EFGR is a protein produced by lung, pancreatic, and liver cancers, and PSMA is produced abundantly by prostate cancers.

The scientists did research on a number of photosensitisers, molecules that react strongly in the presence of light, destroying tissue, and chose a fluorescent dye named IR700.

All that remained was to link HER2, EFGR, and PSMA antibodies with IR700, producing a drug that could be taken prior to light therapy.

The result was an extremely effective cancer therapy, which significantly reduced tumour volume in a single dose.

Kobayashi said that researchers would be able to use IR700 in connection with whatever protein and antibody combination they needed.

He said that, although researchers needed to do more testing, photoimmunotherapy could potentially replace surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation in some cases.

Part of the reason why the dye the researchers used was so effective was that it reacted to infrared light.

Infrared light has a longer wavelength than visible light, meaning that it can penetrate several centimetres deeper than visible light.

 

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