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Physicist sheds new light on breast cancer treatment

A University of Texas at Arlington physics professor believes photodynamic therapy, which has been used successfully in treating skin cancers, may be an effective treatment for breast cancer.

With the help of a $472,000 grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, Wei Chen is researching a new photodynamic therapy activated by long-lasting afterglow nanoparticles. Chen, an assistant physics professor, proposes a new therapy system that uses light generated by afterglow nanoparticles.

The nanoparticles are joined with photosensitizers that can produce a toxin called singlet oxygen. The combined nanopartical and photosensitizers are coated with targeting molecules that can recognize cancer cells. When the combination is targeted to the tumor cells, light from the nanoparticles activates the photosensitizers to produce the toxin, which destroys tumor cells.

No external light is required for treatment. That means the therapy be used to treat deep tumors, such as breast cancer, because the light source is attached to the photosensitizers and they are delivered together to the tumor cells.

Chen said the first step is to develop optimal control of particle characteristics, such as afterglow efficiency and longevity. The nanoparticles will be rigorously characterized and tested for photodynamic activation to include efficacy and toxicity in cultures of cells produced in petri dishes as well as in live animal studies. The ultimate goal is to make this new technology available to help patients to fight cancers.

Chen has formed a team with national and international researchers. Collaborators for the project are Dr. Xiankai Sun from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Dr. Alan G. Joly from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Dr. Petras Juzenas from Norwegian Radium Hospital, Oslo, Norway and Dr. Syed F. Ali from the Food and Drug Administration's National Center for Toxicological Research.