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Researchers use UV light to kill cancer cells in mice

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Science fiction has repeatedly displayed ultraviolet light as a weapon against blood-sucking creatures of the night, but now hard science is giving the method a shot against a real everyday danger: cancer. Early test results indicate that it has the potential to be highly effective.

Chemotherapy can be a devastating course of treatment for cancer patients. It enervates patients in hope of buying more time at the very least, and remission at best. It is one of the few treatment options for hard-to-reach or inoperable tumors, and is one of the most trying treatments that one can face.

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A new experimental treatment has shown promising results in lab tests, eliminating 95 percent of targeted cancer cells in mice in only two hours, according to Engadget. The treatment is based on an experimental concept called optogentics, which uses light in the fight against cancer cells. This method may give patients who were considered too high-risk for other treatments another option.

The process is simple in description, as well as less invasive than other methods. Researchers first inject the chemical nitrobenzaldehyde into the tumor, and give it time to spread throughout the cells. They then focus a beam of ultraviolet light on the tumor.

The combined effect causes cells to become extremely acidic, which in turn causes the cells to die. Researcher Matthew Gdovin, an associate professor at the University of Texas San Antonio told Medical Xpress, “Even though there are many different types of cancers, the one thing they have in common is their susceptibility to this induced cell suicide.”

One benefit to this type of approach is it allows treatment to a specific region of the body, unlike chemotherapy that affects the entire body. It is also a much less intrusive method, as it only requires an injection of the nitrobenzaldehyde and a flash of ultraviolet light.

While not yet widely available, researchers hope that it will soon be a viable treatment option for those who have tumors in areas that are difficult for surgeons to treat, such as the brain stem, aorta, or spine. It would also be an option for those who have had the maximum possible radiation treatment or children at risk of mutation from radiation treatment.