PhotoA new method for treating cancer may provide hope to children and patients with inoperable forms of the disease. The technique, which has been patented by UTSA associate professor Matthew Gdovin, kills cancer cells through a combination of injections and light radiation which forces the harmful cells to die off.

The method may have some far-reaching implications due to its ability to fight a wide variety of cancers. Gdovin says that every form of the disease can be affected by it.

“Even though there are many different types of cancers, the one thing they have in common is their susceptibility to this induced cell suicide,” he said.

Early trials look promising

At its most basic form, the new method, called photodynamic cancer therapy, relies on making cancerous cells very acidic so that they can no longer persist. This may seem ironic, Gdovin says, because changing acidity is one tool that cancer uses to thrive.

“All forms of cancer attempt to make cells acidic on the outside as a way to attract the attention of a blood vessel, which attempts to get rid of the acid. . . Instead, the cancer latches onto the blood vessel and uses it to make the tumor larger and larger,” he explains.

To test the technique, Gdovin used it on a form of triple negative breast cancer, which has historically been one of the most aggressive and difficult forms of cancer to treat; as a result, prognosis for it is generally very poor. After one treatment, Gdovin found that his photodynamic therapy had stopped tumors from growing in mouse models, effectively doubling their chance of survival.

Providing new hope

Although changing acidity may not be a new idea as far as cancer therapies go, this new method allows for a high degree of accuracy because it can solely target tumors. Also, because it only requires an injection and use of ultraviolet light, it is much less invasive than other treatment methods. This is especially important to patients who can no longer receive regular chemotherapy, as well as children who otherwise might experience permanent damage as a result of radiation.

Going forward, Gdovin intends to test his method on drug-resistant cancer cells to see if he can make further improvements. He also has begun development on a nanoparticle that can be injected into metastasized cancer cells and activated by certain wavelengths of light.

“There are so many types of cancer for which the prognosis is very poor. . . We’re thinking outside the box and finding a way to do what for many people is simply impossible,” he said.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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