Using light for cancer treatment

August 05, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 05:34 am IST - Bengaluru:

Conventional cancer treatment methods of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — known as cut, slash and burn for the brutal side-effects they cause on patients — are largely unsuccessful in differentiating between healthy non-cancerous cells and tumour-causing cells.

A team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science have developed a new bio-molecule that can help treat cancer using light as a source for burning away malignant cells, a method which is more successful at targeting only cancerous cells.

This bio-molecule can be used in a relatively new form of cancer treatment known as photodynamic therapy, where a chemical (called a photosensitiser) is used kill small groups of cells. Put simply, the new molecule acts as a photosensitiser, which when exposed to a specific wavelength of light, gets triggered and kills nearby cancerous cells, leaving healthy cells intact, according to an IISc release.

Akhil R. Chakravarty, professor at the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, IISc, and his team are behind the development. The major benefit is that medical professionals have more control over which cells are targeted in the patient’s body. “Photodynamic therapy kills off cancer cells selectively, meaning toxicity to healthy cells can be reduced,” Dr. Chakravarthy told The Hindu.

Multiple methods

The bio-molecule, a vanadium (chemical element) containing complex molecule, targets cancerous cells through multiple methods: it carries a separable chloride ion due to which it caused cross-linking in DNA, leading to cell death. Cross-linking occurs when chemical agents react at two different positions in the DNA.

The molecule, when exposed to visible light, also generates a form of oxygen which can kill nearby cells. The team found that this bio-molecule was non-toxic in normal cells. This has major implications in the field of cancer treatment as existing treatments cause indiscriminate harm to healthy living cells, along with cancerous cells.

“Photodynamic therapy is an emerging field of cancer treatment. It may take some time for doctors in India to start using it,” said Dr. Chakravarthy. Their research was published in the July edition of peer-reviewed journal MedChemComm, produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry, United Kingdom.

IISc scientists develop new bio-molecule to treat cancer using light as a source for burning away malignant cells

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