Light-activated, acid-producing molecule kills cancer cells

Seeking a new way to destroy cancer cells, University of Central Florida chemistry professor Kevin Belfield used a light-activated, acid-generating molecule to make the cells more acidic when exposed to specific wavelengths of light, which in turn kills the bad cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.

Kevin Belfield works in his lab at the University of Central Florida
Kevin Belfield works in his lab at the University of Central Florida

Seeking a new way to destroy cancer cells, University of Central Florida (UCF; Orlando, FL) chemistry professor Kevin Belfield used a light-activated, acid-generating molecule to make the cells more acidic when exposed to specific wavelengths of light, which in turn kills the bad cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. The acid generation resembles what causes acid reflux in some people.

For photodynamic therapy (PDT; the laser-light treatment Belfield used) to work properly, cancer cells loaded with photosensitizers need oxygen to trigger the fatal reaction; however, most cancer cells lack oxygen. So scientists have been intent on making PDT work because it offers a way to target cancer cells deep within human tissue without causing a lot of collateral damage.

Related: Photon-counting nanowires promise precision photodynamic cancer therapy

Instead of focusing on oxygen, Belfield found another way to poison the bad cells while protecting the healthy ones. He developed a 3D optical data-storage system, which involves the use of acid generators. He and his team of researchers at UCF used human colorectal carcinoma cells for the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Health. More research is needed to determine that there are no serious side affects in humans and whether the technique will work on a variety of cancers.

Full results of the work appear in the Journal of the American Chemical Society; for more information, please visit http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/ja3122312.

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