Doctors harness power of light to treat colorectal cancer without toxic side effects

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Treatment for colorectal cancer usually means surgery, often accompanied by chemotherapy. Both types of treatment carry risks, including residual disease and toxic side effects. A newer, safer treatment is in development by Dr. Sung II Park and his team at Texas A&M University. It consists of a low cost, minimally invasive, wireless device that provides precise colorectal cancer treatment.  

How does the innovative technique work? Surgeons will remove the bulk of a tumor. Then, using a photosensitizing drug activated by light, they will irradiate the tumor bed to kill residual colorectal cancer cells.

“The biocompatible, miniaturized, implantable LED device will facilitate photodynamic therapy (PDT) that is tailored to the individual tumor response,” says Park, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the university, in a statement.

The system has the potential to provide remote, continuous health monitoring. It may also prevent recurrence, significantly improving the quality of life for people with cancers. This method of disease management would reduce the enormous economic burden of oncology-related expenditures, totaling $167 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. A 23.35 percent increase is projected for 2022.

The American Institute for Cancer Research reports that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer globally (excluding skin cancers). The American Cancer Society estimates that 149,500 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2022, with 52,980 deaths.

Although PDT is effective in many solid tumors, its clinical application is limited by incomplete understanding of the differing responses of cancerous and normal tissues. Also, there is no way to monitor tumor response to guide adjustment of dosage.

To address these deficiencies, Park and his team propose a two-step procedure. First, the photosensitizer drug is administered, with preferential uptake by tumor cells. The second step is to illuminate the tumor by non-thermal light at a wavelength that matches an absorption spectrum of the drug. Activation of the drug will induce a photochemical reaction that triggers tumor cell death.

“The intracavity device will provide a minimally invasive, biocompatible platform for light detection of residual cancers and delivery to tumor cells located in any part of the body, suggesting it could make an impact in the areas of breast, kidney, lung, pancreatic, prostate, ovarian and rare cancers,” Park states.

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