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Photobombing Cancer: New Treatment Bursts Tumor Cells, Spares Healthy Ones

First Posted: Nov 18, 2016 03:00 AM EST
Cancer cells
Dr. Kerstin Stenson uses photoimmunotherapy technology (PIT) to fight cancer.
(Photo : TED-Ed/YouTube)

A new cancer treatment shows promise in killing cancer cells while sparing healthy ones.

Dr. Kerstin Stenson, a Rush University Medical Center Oncologist, uses photoimmunotherapy technology (PIT) to fight one of the deadliest diseases in the world, cancer.

The experimental technique combines the ability of the immune system to detect and target cancer cells accurately, with the ability of laser energy to destroy the cells. Most conventional cancer treatments target healthy cells, too. In PIT, on the other hand, healthy cells are spared as the technology sends tremendously particular, lethal payloads with only minimal collateral damage in the body.

Like A Guided Missile

"This treatment is so unique and promising because its cancer cell-killing power is so selective and immediate," Dr. Stenson, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Program, said in a press release by the Rush University Medical Center.

"It really is just like a guided missile," she added.

In cancer treatment, targeting specific cancer cells is crucial. In photoimmunotherapy, the photosensitizer, which is designed to accumulate in and near a cancerous tumor, is combined with a laboratory-produced and controlled antibody.

The monoclonal antibody detects and binds to receptors found on the neck and head cancer cells. Then, the doctors administer the combination, termed as a payload drug, which goes throughout the patient's body.

Promising Results

After one day, the doctor attaches laser-optic fibers near the tumor. She uses a laser light energy to hit the photosensitizer target. Molecular-level explosions weaken and destroy the cell walls of the cancer cells, making water molecules rush into the tumor until it bursts.

"Almost immediately, you can see the tumor start dying. It turns white and melts away," Dr. Stenson explained.

Despite PIT being used today only for head and neck cancers, it has a great potential in fighting other types of cancers as well. This new breakthrough treatment could help cancer patients who underwent series of treatments that failed to work.

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