By Kathleen Berger
New research is successfully useing light as a precision weapon against cancer by creating an army of light-triggered nanoparticles to lead the attack. The new strategy is using light as a weapon against cancer cells that have spread deep inside the body in animal studies at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The technique.
Samuel Achilefu, PhD, the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology at the School of Medicine, has proven how this technique can target and attack cancer cells when light emitted from a common cancer imaging agent causes tumors to glow.
“We looked at different ways of delivering our light sensitive drugs to cancer. The new formulation is part of nanomedicine where you can create small amounts of materials that are biologically acceptable and not toxic at all,” said Achilefu. “In the material of that material, you can load drugs into it. They are small enough to allow them to exit the blood vessels and find the cancer cells.”
Achilefu is the senior author of the study, which is published online in Nature Communications.
“Cancer that has spread remains the major reason patients die,” said Achilefu. “Our study shows that this phototherapeutic technology is particularly suited to attacking small tumors that spread to different parts of the body, including deep in the bone marrow.”
Achilefu’s technology uses a low dose of material from a particular chemotherapy drug called titanocene. It works when exposed to radiation emitted by visible light.
“We are using the molecule because it is proven already and in the clinic,” explained Achilefu. “What we are trying to achieve here is to stimulate them and train them to behave differently. Instead of being a chemotherapeutic where we need large concentrations to do its job, we are using a very low concentration, a very low dose of this material.”
This new technique spares healthy cells and reduces the levels of a drug called fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) to a point where patients would not experience side effects. Human clinical trials must first take place to prove safety and efficacy before it can be approved for cancer patients.
“We are not ready for human trials yet,” said Achilefu. “We are trying to raise funds for those studies.