To Kill Cancer, Let’s Use Light

A new study has uncovered what could be a better way to completely destroy cancer cells.

Kill Cancer Light

As one of the most notorious diseases, cancer never fails to make people feel scared and anxious, especially because it afflicts anybody regardless of age, gender and race. So when new treatments are discovered and developed, it gives renewed hope to those battling the disease. And there’s rarely a shortage in the number of volunteers who want to take part even when the treatment is only in its clinical testing stages.

Typically, new treatments are developed separately for each kind of cancer. You’ll just have to scour the daily news and you’ll see that there’s always some news about the disease. One of the recent ones involves the use of light-based treatment, rather than typical surgery, to destroy cancer cells.

The research, published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), is a collaborative effort among Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) Professors Hyun-Woo Rhee, Mi Hee Lim, Tae-Hyuk Kwon and eight other researchers.

Based on a press release from UNIST, the focus of the study is on the potential of using Iridium(III) complexes for photodynamic therapy (PDT). Compared with chemotherapy which has the tendency to lower a patient’s immune system because the drugs used for the treatment kill malignant cells but can also destroy healthy cells in the process, PDT is more appealing because it selectively destroys cancer cells without damaging surrounding tissue.

The research also aims to show how reactive oxygen species (ROS) — a form of oxygen that is capable of killing cancer cells — is produced, and how cancer cells are affected by the different colors of light based on specific wavelengths.

PDT kills cancerous cells by combining special drugs (called photosensitizers or PSs) with harmless visible light to produce ROS. The challenge is in determining which color in the visible light spectrum will be most effective in ROS production.

Based on the results of their tests, red light with long wavelengths promotes faster ROS production than either blue or green light with shorter wavelengths. Specifically, Iridium(III)-based materials that make use of red lights are more effective at attacking, and ultimately, killing the cancer cells.

According to Jung Seung Nam — a UNIST M.S./Ph.D. student of Nature Science and one of the authors of the study: “These newly-developed Iridium(III) complexes not only induce enhanced production of ROS, but they are also effective at killing cancer cells.”

He further adds that, “Using infrared light that penetrate deep into the human body, we are now capable of killing deep cancer tumors without damaging healthy tissue.”

And that’s great news because although there are many other cancer treatments, the recently tested Iridium(III) complexes have the distinct advantage of being able to do a targeted task — to kill only those cells that are cancerous, but leave healthy tissues unharmed.

Through further development, it is hoped that this innovation can eventually help more patients become cancer-free and healthy once again.

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