The latest research by UK and Swiss scientists has concluded that targeted photodynamic therapy could completely eradicate some models of cancer.
The team linked light-sensitive molecules with antibodies that target tumour blood vessels. When irradiated with light, the molecules create particles known as reactive oxygen species, which in high numbers cause irreparable damage to cells.
By ensuring the light-sensitive molecules were targeted at the tumour blood vessels, the researchers could starve the tumour of oxygen and nutrients and cause it to disappear completely, with no re-growth during the following 100 days.
"There are already drugs in clinical use which target tumour blood vessels, but these only inhibit growth rather than completely kill the tumour," explained Ross Boyle, from Hull's Department of Chemistry, who designed and created the light-sensitive molecules used in the research.
"By using this form of targeted photodynamic therapy, we were able to completely kill the tumour in our models. Though this is still a long way from being used on patients, it does hold exciting potential for the treatments of some of the most common skin cancers," added Boyle.
However, the tumour was only completely eradicated when 'natural killer cells' - a key part of the immune system - were present. When the production of these was blocked, the tumour reduced in size, but did not disappear.
Targeting light-sensitive molecules to a tumour site ensures that the treatment should be more effective even at smaller doses, improving outcomes and reducing potential side effects to patients. The technique could potentially replace more invasive forms of treatment such as surgery and radiotherapy.
The study has been published in the British Journal of Cancer.