Scientists harness light therapy to target and kill cancer cells in a world first | Cancer


Scientists have successfully developed a revolutionary cancer treatment that illuminates and extinguishes microscopic cancer cells. This is a breakthrough that could allow surgeons to more effectively target and destroy the disease in patients.

A European team of engineers, physicists, neurosurgeons, biologists and immunologists from the UK, Poland and Sweden have come together to develop the new form of photoimmunotherapy.

Experts predict that it will become the fifth most important cancer treatment in the world, after surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy.

Light-activated therapy forces cancer cells to glow in the dark, helping surgeons remove more tumors compared to traditional techniques — and then killing remaining cells within minutes of the surgery’s completion. In a world-first study of mice with glioblastoma, one of the most common and aggressive types of brain tumors, scans showed the novel treatment made even the tiniest cancer cells glow to help surgeons remove them — and then obliterate those that were left.

Trials of the new form of photoimmunotherapy, led by the Institute of Cancer Research in London, also showed that the treatment triggered an immune response that could prime the immune system to attack cancer cells in the future, suggesting it could prevent the recurrence of Prevent glioblastoma after surgery. Researchers are now also studying the new treatment for childhood cancer, neuroblastoma.

“Brain tumors like glioblastoma can be difficult to treat, and unfortunately, there are too few treatment options for patients,” said study leader Dr. Gabriela Kramer-Marek to the Guardian. “Surgery is challenging because of the location of the tumors, and so new ways of seeing tumor cells that need to be removed during surgery and treating cancer cells that remain afterwards could be of great benefit.”

The ICR’s team leader for preclinical molecular imaging added: “Our study shows that a novel photoimmunotherapy treatment using a combination of a fluorescent marker, affibody protein and near-infrared light can both identify and treat residual glioblastoma cells in mice. We hope that this approach can also be used to treat human glioblastoma and potentially other cancers in the future.”

The therapy combines a special fluorescent dye with a cancer-targeting compound. In the mouse study, the combination was shown to dramatically improve the visibility of cancer cells during surgery and, when later activated by near-infrared light, elicited an antitumor effect.

Scientists from the ICR, Imperial College London, the Medical University of Silesia, Poland, and the Swedish company AffibodyAB believe the novel treatment could help surgeons remove particularly difficult tumors, such as those in the head and neck, more easily and effectively .

The joint effort was funded in large part by the Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Center at the ICR and Imperial College London – a partnership that brings together international scientists from the fields of engineering, physics and life sciences to find innovative ways to fight cancer.

“Multidisciplinary work is crucial to find innovative solutions to the challenges we face in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment – and this study is a great example,” said Prof. Axel Behrens, leader of the cancer stem cell team at the ICR and Scientific Director of Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre.

“This research demonstrates a novel approach to identifying and treating glioblastoma cells in the brain, using light to transform an immunosuppressive environment into an immune-prone one, and which has exciting potential as a therapy against this aggressive type of brain tumor.”

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After decades of advances in cancer treatment, the four main forms that exist today – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy – mean that more people who are diagnosed with the disease can be treated effectively and live healthy lives for many years.

However, the proximity of some tumors to vital organs in the body means that new ways of treating cancer must be developed so doctors can overcome the risk of damaging healthy parts of the body. Experts believe photoimmunotherapy may be the answer.

When tumors grow in sensitive areas of the brain like the motor cortex, which is involved in planning and controlling voluntary movements, glioblastoma surgeries can leave behind tumor cells that are very difficult to treat — and the disease can come back more aggressively later.

The new treatment uses synthetic molecules called affibodies. These are tiny proteins engineered in the lab to bind with high precision to a specific target, in this case a protein called EGFR, which is mutated in many cases of glioblastoma.

The affibodies were then combined with a fluorescent molecule called IR700 and given to the mice before surgery. Illuminated compounds made the dye glow, highlighting microscopic areas of tumors in the brain that could be removed by surgeons. The laser then switched to near-infrared light, which triggered anti-tumor activity and killed the remaining cells after surgery.

“Photoimmunotherapies could help us target the cancer cells that can’t be removed during surgery, which could help people live longer after their treatment,” said Dr. Charles Evans, Research Information Manager at Cancer Research UK. He warned that there were still technical challenges to be overcome, such as B. reaching all parts of a tumor with near-infrared light, but added that he was “excited to see this research develop.”

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