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Researchers Use Tissue-Penetrating Light to Treat Cancer

  • Jessica Berman

Researchers have developed a novel way to fight cancer - with a tissue-penetrating nanoparticle drug delivery system that directly targets chemotherapy at tumors. The therapy uses laser light to release the drug where it can have the greatest effect.

The experimental cancer treatment, developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, targets solid tumors using nanoparticles loaded with a chemotherapy drug. The particles are fluorescent, so their progress through the body can be followed.

Once they collect inside the tumor, a pulse of infrared laser light activates the spheres, releasing their anti-cancer cargo.

“This is something that I am really passionate about, actually. What we are trying to accomplish is something called on-demand or on-command release of anti-cancer drugs,” said Fuyu Tamanoi, professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA.

He said the main advantage of this treatment is no healthy tissue is destroyed. Tamanoi said patients do not experience the nausea, fatigue and hair loss common with traditional chemotherapy.

The light-activated drug delivery technique, described in the journal Small, was developed by his colleague, Jeffrey Zink, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Zink said the light trigger only works up to a range of 4 centimeters, so the therapy would be limited to tumors close to the skin surface, such as those in breast, colon and ovarian cancers. So far, the nanotherapy has worked successfully in culture, destroying cancer cells.

The next step is to try the experimental therapy in mice. Zink said other experiments with nanoparticles have shown they are very effective at destroying cancer cells, without the light trigger.

“We can shrink tumors in mice. In fact, the standard joke among us is that if you are a mice and had a tumorous cancer we could cure you, because in the mouse models, at least, these have been extremely successful,” said Zink.

Investigators say the next step is to make sure this anti-cancer treatment is safe for humans. Another potential challenge - making sure the infrared light reaches all the nanoparticles inside a tumor.
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