Light, chemistry, action – a new
technique to target skin
11 April 2011
Targeted photodynamic therapy can completely eradicate
some models of cancer, according to the latest research by UK and
Swiss scientists, published in the current issue of the British
Journal of Cancer.
The team – including researchers from
the University of Hull and ETH Zurich – linked light-sensitive
molecules with antibodies that target tumour blood vessels. When
irradiated with light, the molecules create particles known as
reactive oxygen species, which in high numbers cause irreparable
damage to cells.
< Cancer cell
By ensuring the light-sensitive molecules were targeted at the
tumour blood vessels, the researchers could starve the tumour of
oxygen and nutrients and cause it to disappear completely, with no
re-growth during the following 100 days.
“There are already drugs in clinical use which
target tumour blood vessels, but these only inhibit growth rather
than completely kill the tumour,” explains Dr Ross Boyle, from
Hull’s Department of Chemistry, who designs and creates the
light-sensitive molecules used in the research.
“By using this form of targeted photodynamic
therapy, we were able to completely kill the tumour in our models.
Though this is still a long way from being used on patients, it
does hold exciting potential for the treatments of some of the most
common skin cancers.”
However, the tumour was only completely
eradicated when ‘natural killer cells’ – a key part of the immune
system – were present. When the production of these was blocked,
the tumour reduced in size, but did not disappear. The team believe
further research is needed to determine the exact role of the
immune system in the process.
Targeting light-sensitive molecules to a
tumour site ensures that the treatment should be more effective
even at smaller doses, improving outcomes and reducing potential
side effects to patients. The technique could potentially replace
more invasive forms of treatment such as surgery and
Dr Boyle and his colleagues are now applying for further
funding to move the research closer to clinical trials.
Page last updated by Andrea Luquesi on
1. Dr Ross Boyle is a Reader in the Department of Chemistry,
University of Hull. He specialises in photodynamic therapy,
particularly its applications to cancer treatments.
2. The research published in the British Journal of Cancer
Department of Chemistry,
University of Hull;
Institute of Pharmaceutical
Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich;
Institute of Surgical
Pathology, University Hospital Zurich;
Department of Dermatology,
University Hospital Zurich
3. Health-related research
at the University of Hull ranges from biology
and biochemistry to sports science, psychology and medicine. The
University heads major UK and EU clinical trials into heart
disease, dementia care, obesity and nutrition and is a recognised
centre for research into head and neck cancers, medical imaging,
respiratory diseases and remote monitoring of health conditions
Health research at the University of Hull is highly
translational, with strong links between fundamental scientists and
clinicians ensuring maximum impact on treatment and practice. The
University has a joint medical school with the University of York –
Hull York Medical School (HYMS) – which works closely with regional
NHS trusts and trains 130 new doctors each year.
In the 2008 national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), 80% of the
University’s research across all fields was judged to be of
international standard in terms of originality, significance and
rigour. The National Student Survey (NSS) consistently ranks the
University in the top ten mainstream English