A quick search of cancer statistics reveals that two out of five Canadians can expect to be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime, and that one out of four will not survive their battle with cancer. Anyone who has had clinical research training can tell you that cancer has become one of the leading causes of death in Canada. As this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness month nears its end, some promising news in cancer research is certainly a welcome surprise. The most recent innovative stride is in phototherapy – a treatment that promises patients some relief from the invasive rigours of chemotherapy by more effectively targeting cancerous growths.
For decades, cancer has been treated and controlled through chemotherapy. This treatment method has the ability to potentially cure cancer, control its growth and ease its symptoms; however, it is a very invasive process that causes considerable strain on the body. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, but in doing so, often harms the body’s healthy tissues. Patients typically experience excessive fatigue and exhaustion while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, as well as nausea, pain and hair loss. Researchers have long sought more targeted, less invasive alternatives to save cancer patients additional suffering during treatment.
In recent years Phototherapy (PDT) has emerged as a common alternative to chemical treatment; however, it is only effective under specific circumstances. PDT uses drugs called photosensitizing agents to kill cancer cells. Once these drugs have been administered and are activated by light, they react with oxygen to form a chemical that kills cancer cells. They also convey a message to the immune system to attack the invading cancer. Those who have taken clinical research courses understand that in some cases, PDT can be just as effective as surgery or radiation therapy. Take a look at some of the advantages of using this form of treatment:
- No long-term side effects
- Less invasive than surgery
- Doesn’t take long
- Can be repeated in the same area as needed
- Little to no scarring
- Can cost less than other treatment methods
- Can be targeted precisely
PDT is a great treatment method for skin cancer or tumors below shallow tissue. However, if the cancer cells are in an area that can’t be reached by light, or if the disease has already spread heavily throughout the body, the PDT drugs won’t be activated and their healing agents will be ineffective.
A New Take on Phototherapy
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have recently found a way to activate the drugs used in PDT at deeper levels than can be achieved using standard methods. PDT drugs can only be activated by light, and the ability for light to penetrate deep into the skin is limited. Upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) are fluorescent chemical compounds that can absorb and re-emit light at larger wavelengths. Through the use of enhanced UCNPs and FDA-approved PDT drugs, researchers were able to successfully increase light exposure and activate the PDT drugs at deeper levels.
The results of this testing showed that cancer cells were destroyed more effectively and in greater amounts than previously achieved using traditional Phototherapy. Anyone with pharmaceutical training understands that researchers continually strive to improve upon existing technologies while ensuring methods are safe for patients. These most recent innovations in fluorescent Phototherapy seem to successfully strike that delicate balance – and hold great promise for the future of more patient-friendly cancer treatment.