A newly patented method to kill cancer cells may be of tremendous help people with inoperable or hard-to-reach tumours, as well as patients who have reached the limit of their treatment options.
An associate professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Biology, Matthew Gdovin’s top-tier research involves injecting a chemical compound, nitrobenzaldehyde, into the tumour and allowing it to diffuse into the tissue. He then aims a beam of light at the tissue, causing the cells to become very acidic inside and, essentially, commit suicide. Within two hours, Gdovin estimates up to 95 per cent of the targeted cancer cells are dead.
“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.
Gdovin tested his method against triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types of cancer and one of the hardest to treat. The prognosis for triple negative breast cancer is usually very poor. After one treatment in the laboratory, he was able to stop the tumour from growing and double chances of survival in mice.
“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,” he said. “Instead, the cancer latches onto the blood vessel and uses it to make the tumour larger and larger.”
Chemotherapy treatments target all cells in the body, and certain chemotherapeutics try to keep cancer cells acidic as a way to kill the cancer. This is what causes many cancer patients to lose their hair and become sickly. Gdovin’s method, however, is more precise and can target just the tumour.
In the past two years, he’s developed his photodynamic cancer therapy to the point where it’s non-invasive. It now requires just an injection of the nitrobenzaldehyde fluid followed by a flash of an ultraviolet light to cause the cancer-killing reaction. Gdovin has now begun to test the method on drug-resistant cancer cells to make his therapy as strong as possible. He’s also started to develop a nanoparticle that can be injected into the body to target metastasised cancer cells. The nanoparticle is activated with a wavelength of light that it can pass harmlessly through skin, flesh and bone and still activate the cancer-killing nanoparticle.
Gdovin hopes that his non-invasive method will help cancer patients with tumours in areas that have proven problematic for surgeons, such as the brain stem, aorta or spine. It could also help people who have received the maximum amount of radiation treatment and can no longer cope with the scarring and pain that goes along with it, or children who are at risk of developing mutations from radiation as they grow older.
“There are so many types of cancer for which the prognosis is very poor,” he said. “We’re thinking outside the box and finding a way to do what for many people is simply impossible.”