Photodynamic therapy, driven by software, treats internal tumors

Software developed by researchers in atomic physics at Lund University and software developer SpectraCure enables photodynamic therapy (PDT)—which pairs laser light with certain light-activated drugs—to treat internal tumors.

Software developed by researchers in atomic physics at Lund University and software developer SpectraCure (both of Lund, Sweden) enables photodynamic therapy (PDT)—which pairs laser light with certain light-activated drugs—to treat internal tumors. Previously, intermal tumors could not receive PDT treatment due to lack of a technology to check that the precise amount of light is administered. As a result, PDT has been used mostly to cure skin cancer.

The software uses a laser instrument's optical fibers to also gather information about the tumor, which they then send back to the laser instrument. That way, the software can continually calculate the optimal light dose and adjust it if necessary, says Johannes Swartling, doctor of atomic physics at Lund University and chief technical officer at SpectraCure. "The entire tumor must be removed, while damage to adjacent organs must be avoided," he says.

Tests on prostate cancer patients in Sweden have shown that the method also works for internal tumors, and in the spring a clinical study on recurrent prostate cancer will begin in the US and Canada. An application for approval to carry out the study is pending. Meanwhile, the same laser light technology is being tested in the UK on pancreatic cancer.

"The advantage of laser light is that it appears that side effects can be minimized. With current treatment methods, prostate cancer patients who are cured risk both impotence and incontinence," says Swartling. In addition, traditional treatments entail a risk of cancer recurrence, he says.

The international tests focus on adjusting dosage, guaranteeing safety, and ensuring the effectiveness of treatment. If everything goes smoothly, SpectraCure hopes the method will be approved by the FDA and Health Canada within a few years.

The software could also be used with other light therapies that use LEDs or infrared lasers, according to the researchers.

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