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Physics professor sheds lights on prostate cancer treatment


Wei Chen, an assistant physics professor, contends that photodynamic therapy, which has been used successfully in treating skin cancers, may be an effective treatment for prostate cancer. Chen is researching a new photodynamic therapy system that uses light generated by long-lasting afterglow nanoparticles. The research is funded by a $324,529 grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. In 2009, Chen received a $525,718 grant from the same program to do similar research on breast cancer.

"Dr. Chen is at the forefront of developing new targeted therapies to treat cancer," said Ronald Elsenbaumer, UT Arlington's vice president for research and federal relations. "And, it is exciting to see our faculty discover innovative ways to improve lives."

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

No external light is required for treatment. That means the therapy can be used to treat deep tumors, such as prostate 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.

The grant is for the work at UT Arlington, but Chen and his research group are collaborating with a number of international scientists. They include Dr. Xiankai Sun, Dr. Timothy Solberg, Dr. Jinming Gao and Dr. Jer-Tsong Hsieh from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, 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 and Dr. Alan Joly from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Chen's research is representative of the biomedical research programs that are propelling UT Arlington on its mission of becoming a nationally recognized research institution.

Chen received his doctorate from Peking University in China in 1992 and joined the faculty at UT Arlington in 2006. He recently edited a three-volume set book on drug delivery through nanomaterials and nanodevices that was published in February by American Scientific Publisher.