Fighting cancer with light

Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a cancer fighting technology which uses ultra-violet light to activate antibodies which specifically attack tumours.

Therapeutic antibodies have long been recognised as having excellent potential but getting them to efficiently target tumour cells has proved to be very difficult.

Now, Prof Colin Self and Dr Stephen Thompson from Newcastle University have developed a procedure to ‘cloak’ the antibodies which can then be activated by UV-A light and so can be targeted to a specific area of the body by shining a probe at the relevant part.

This procedure maximises the destruction of the tumour while minimising damage to healthy tissue.

The researchers have demonstrated that they can coat the surface of a protein, such as an antibody, with an organic oil which is photocleavable. This prevents the antibody reacting within the body unless it is illuminated.

When UV-A light is shone onto the cloaked antibody, it is activated. The activated antibody binds to T-cells, the body’s own defence system, triggering the T-cells to target the surrounding tissue. When the cloaked antibodies are activated by light near a tumour, the tumour is killed.

The development means that antibodies can be targeted to kill cancer tumours with much greater specificity than conventional treatments, so there are fewer side effects.

BioTransformations, the company set up by Prof Colin Self to develop the technology, is looking to begin clinical trials on patients with secondary skin cancers in early 2008.