Our lab is researching a therapy that uses a drug and a specific wavelength of light that activates the drug. Combined, this type of drug + light therapy is called, “photodynamic therapy.” The photodynamic therapy we have developed triggers the cell to commit suicide, a processes known as “apoptosis.” In the petri dish, the compound first easily crosses the cell membrane and enters the cell. We then remove the compound from the outside of the cell. Exposing the cancerous cells containing this compound to a specific wavelength of light initiates a very rapid, extreme acidification of the inside of the cell. The cell cannot survive in the face of this rapid acid challenge, and subsequently commits cell suicide. Our studies demonstrate that the compound without the light is not toxic, and the light without the compound is benign. These properties impart a selectivity to limit cell death to only the areas containing the compound and receiving the light.
So far, our therapy has been successful in a less aggressive breast cancer an aggressive triple negative breast cancer, and prostate cancer. We found ~70% – 98% of cells underwent apoptosis within two hours of treatment. We plan to test our photodynamic therapy in other cancer cells lines including, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and glioblastoma.
After the encouraging initial results, testing our photodynamic therapy in mice with breast cancer tumors, we are planning additional experiments to maximize outcomes and gather better data from animals. We observed a significant reduction in the tumor growth and nearly doubling of survival time in response to a single treatment in mice bearing triple negative breast cancer tumors. We are also working to conduct experiments to gather data needed to apply for an investigational new drug (IND) status from the FDA, and will begin clinical trials as soon an IND is granted.