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  • Photosensitizers Use IR Source
May 2007
SOCORRO, N.M., May 16, 2007 -- A new agent to treat certain cancers uses the unique light-emitting properties of specific nanoparticles to deliver tiny, yet therapeutic, dosages of antibodies and reactive oxygen to individual tumor cells or clusters of cells, without affecting surrounding tissue.

The newly developed photosensitizers, which work as light-sensitive drugs when used with established photodynamic therapy procedures, are described in a research paper published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

Unlike previous photosensitizers that have been used in photodynamic therapy for cancers, these versatile photosensitizers use infrared (IR) light as an irradiation source, a technique being touted as "the biggest advancement in photodynamic therapy in the last 10 years" by the authors.

New Mexico Tech chemistry assistant professors Peng Zhang and Wim Steelant, along with Tech students Manoj Kumar and Matthew Scholfield, co-wrote the JACS article, "Versatile Photosensitizers for Photodynamic Therapy at Infrared Excitation."

The design of the novel photosensitizers is based on using nanoparticles, or materials in the nanometer (10 to the negative ninth power) range, with unique "photon upconversion" properties. Specifically, the photon upconverting nanoparticles (PUNPs) developed by the Tech researchers convert lower-energy light to higher-energy light after being exposed to infrared wavelengths of light.

In addition, antibody molecules specific to the cancer cells were attached to the nanoparticles' surfaces, serving as a guide to direct the PUNPs toward the target cancer cells.

"Infrared has the ability to penetrate human tissue three to five times deeper than other wavelengths of visible light typically used in photodynamic therapy, which is a highly desirable feature for applying photodynamic therapy to many cancer treatments," said Zhang. "However, the photo-sensitive drugs being used in the previous experiments, unlike the new photosensitizers we’ve developed, usually could not be excited by infrared light."

Steelant added, "The use of these photosensitizers is a very big advancement in photodynamic therapy. With this new technology, we can target specific cancer cells, down to a very small, but well-defined spot. Our only limiting factor encountered so far is our lack of ultrahigh-powered microscopes, which would allow us to see down to the individual lipids or proteins in the cancer cells themselves."

In their ongoing research, the scientists have successfully used PUNPs to detect and kill breast cancer cells, and they plan to expand their study to include prostrate cancer cells.

Zhang and Steelant are joined in their promising oncology study by Séverine van Slambrouck, a postdoctoral researcher at New Mexico Tech who has become adept at culturing breast cancer cells in the university’s Laboratory of Biochemical and Biomedical Research.

“Severine’s work is crucial to our study, since she can pinpoint cancer cells from a tumor that’s localized to the metastasizing phase, where the cancer begins to spread,” Steelant said. “Therefore, we are able to see in great detail where the cancer is, and where and how fast it’s spreading.”

The study is funded through startup financial and logistical support provided by the research university in Socorro and by a research grant from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health.

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The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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