A pioneering new technique that could make light-based cancer treatment more effective and safer for patients, while reducing its cost, has been developed by researchers from a British university. Light-based or photodynamic therapy is already a clinically-approved treatment, which uses drugs that only work when exposed to light to destroy cancer cells. However, many of these drugs are frequently toxic even without light, causing many side effects in patients and leading to treatment failure.
The study carried out by Jose Ricardo Aguilar Cosme, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield, and overseen by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the varsity's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Department of Oncology and Metabolism, has developed tiny carbon nanoparticles that can deliver cancer drugs to tumours, the university said in a release on Saturday.
The researchers have sought to improve these drugs by using small carbon dots as a way to get the drug to the tumour. Carbon dots are fluorescent nanoparticles with very little toxicity, making them extremely useful for this application. These nanoparticles were made using common ingredients such as sucrose and citric acid, which occur naturally in various fruits.
Two different versions of the carbon dots were developed as part of the research, one with the drug bound on the surface and the other where the drug was inside the dot.
"When the drug was bound to the surface of a carbon dot it was four times less toxic without light while maintaining its cancer-killing effect in a lab model of melanoma skin cancer. This increases the overall effectiveness of the drug," said Frederik Claeyssens, who supervised the research.
"An additional advantage of the carbon dots is that they glow, also known as fluorescence, which makes them very simple to locate. We observed that the particles rapidly enter tumour cells and their fluorescence makes it simple to monitor how they move round the body and how they accumulate in tumours," he said.
Helen Bryant, who also supervised the research, said the research has the potential to produce cheaper anticancer drugs with greater efficiency to kill tumours and less side-effects in patients.