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Laser Activation Tested as Potential Cancer Drug Delivery

Paras Prasad (University at Buffalo)

Paras Prasad (University at Buffalo)

16 May 2014. Researchers from University at Buffalo in New York developed and tested in the lab a process harnessing lasers to activate drugs inside the body to kill cancer cells. Findings from the proof-of-concept study, led by Buffalo’s Paras Prasad with colleagues from universities in China and Korea, were published online earlier this week in the journal Nature Photonics (paid subscription required).

Prasad — director of Buffalo’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics — and associates sought to extend the ability of lasers to activate photosensitizing agents inside the body. Photosensitizing agents are normally applied as topical treatments on the skin that release therapeutic compounds when exposed to visible or ultraviolet rays. In this case, the team was seeking a method for using a form of light waves to activate therapies with the ability to kill cancer cells inside the body, not just on the skin.

The researchers designed a process with near-infrared light, waves on the electromagnetic spectrum just outside the range of visible light, to react with photosensitizers that can release oxidants for killing cancer cells. This type of treatment, known as photodynamic therapy, is now used to treat tumors visibly accessible, such as in skin or oral cancers. Near-infrared light offers a possible approach to solving the problem since it can penetrate tissue below skin levels.

But penetrating below skin level is only part of the problem. Near-infrared rays cannot easily activate photosensitizers, and synthesizing these compounds is a difficult undertaking. Prasad and colleagues hypothesized they could sidestep the synthesis process by taking advantage of changes in light from the interaction of near infrared waves with collagen in connective tissue, lipids (oils), and proteins in the body. These interactions change the frequency of the near-infrared waves into visible light, making it possible to generate light inside the body that could be absorbed by photosensitizers.

The researchers tested the process of directing near-infrared lasers to activate a photosensitizer normally requiring visible light. Through a combination of lab experiments and simulations, the team showed they could generate enough visible light from near-infrared lasers to activate chlorin e6, a photosensitizer compound known for its ability to absorb visible light. They devised two separate methods for these light wave conversions, one for collagen and another for lipids and proteins, which both succeeded in activating chlorin e6.

The university applied for a patent on this process and says it is in licensing discussions with companies interested in its commercialization.

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Paras Prasad
Paras Prasad
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