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Fighting cancer with light therapy

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society explores a novel nontoxic method to fight cancer by targeting cancer cells using photodynamic therapy.

Nanoparticles are tiny particles that can be engineered to carry certain compounds and be preferably taken up by specific cells, such as cancer cells. The use of nanoparticles has been studied as an anti-cancer therapy by many groups. As a flexible and safe tool, groups have repurposed these particles for very specific uses in the hopes of increasing the specificity of their anti-cancer effects.

An American group from Chicago recently came up with a novel nanoparticle strategy, which was published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. This strategy incorporated photodynamic therapy, which involves the use of light to activate molecules within the nanoparticles. Their results were promising and demonstrated that their strategy could effectively target breast tumors and metastases in mice.

Light therapy-activated nanoparticles eliminate tumors

The scientists in this study formulated nanoparticles that contained chlorine-based molecules that could be activated through the absorption of infrared light, turning the particles toxic. Since these nanoparticles accumulate in the tumor, the light therapy could be administered at the specific tumor sites.

The group used preclinical mouse models to test the effectiveness of the therapy. Breast cancer tumors, in addition to metastases, were eliminated. It is believed that the immune system was stimulated after activating the nanoparticles in the primary tumor site, leading to the eradication of metastatic sites.

Transitioning away from chemotherapy

With such promising results, the authors of this study are looking to move this photodynamic nanoparticle therapy into the clinic. The elimination of metastatic tumors was a highly significant result, since chemotherapy, which causes many toxic side effects, is used to eliminate metastases in breast cancer.

The pursuit of scientists in creating a safe and highly targeted therapy is ongoing and exemplified by the data presented in this study. As newer therapies move into the clinic, physicians will eventually move away from chemotherapy and use novel strategies to fight cancer and avoid toxic side effects.

Written by Branson Chen, BHSc

Reference: Duan X, Chan C, Guo N, Han W, Weichselbaum RR, Lin W. Photodynamic therapy mediated by nontoxic core–shell nanoparticles synergizes with immune checkpoint blockade to elicit antitumor immunity and antimetastatic effect on breast cancer. Journal of the American Chemical Society. 2016 Dec 15;138(51):16686-95.

Branson Chen MSc
Branson Chen MSc
Branson has a BHSc from McMaster University and is currently completing his MSc at the University of Toronto. He is enthusiastic about contributing to patient education and knowledge translation, which are essential for the dissemination of biomedical research, and does so by writing for the Medical News Bulletin. Branson enjoys playing board games and programming in his spare time, and hopes to continue his career in academic research.
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