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Ultraviolet light boosts cancer treatment

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  • Ultraviolet light boosts cancer treatment

    By Nic Fleming, Science Correspondent


    Ultraviolet light can be used to maximise the impact and minimise the side effects of cancer treatments, scientists say.

    British researchers have developed a way of switching on the body's natural anti-tumour mechanisms by shining UV light onto an area with a tumour.

    Therapeutic antibodies, substances that play a key role in identifying and neutralising foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses, are already in use in several anti-cancer drugs.

    However their use has been hampered by difficulties in delivering enough of them to tumours without unbalancing the immune system and triggering unwanted side effects.

    Now scientists at Newcastle University have developed a way to prevent antibodies becoming effective until illuminated with UV light - meaning they can target specific cancers while remaining inactive in other parts of the body.

    Lead researcher Prof Colin Self said yesterday: "We have a means of being able to illuminate an area to turn on the immune system to kill cancer in that area.

    "I would describe this development as the equivalent of ultra-specific magic bullets. My vision for the future is a patient who comes into a clinic for treatment of bladder cancer would receive an injection of the cloaked antibodies.

    "He or she would sit in the waiting room for an hour and then come back in for five minutes of light therapy.

    "We could then tell the patient to go home and allow their own immune system to clear their tumour."

    The Newcastle University team, whose research is published today in the journal ChemMedChem, firstly demonstrated how they could coat an antibody in an oil so that it does not react with substances within the body except when illuminated.

    In a second study mice with ovarian cancer were injected with antibodies known to stimulate immune responses to the tumours.

    In their uncoated form, the antibodies significantly reduced the weight of the tumours in three weeks.

    However the combination of "cloaked" antibodies and UV light caused "a massive decrease in subsequent tumour growth to the extent that no trace of tumour was detectable" in 83 per cent of laboratory mice.

    Antibodies activated by the UV light are freed to bind to T-cells, immune system cells which then target the cancer in the illuminated area.

    The researchers are now seeking funding for a trial in human skin cancer patients early next year.

    Dr David Glover, former chief medical officer at the Cambridge Antibody Technology group, said: "Many therapeutic antibodies have been approved for treating cancers, but often they are not terribly potent at killing the tumours.

    "This potentially very powerful new technology is a benign way of making antibodies more potent, by harnessing the power of the immune system to deal with cancers."

    Prof Self added that while their research so far suggested sunlight would not activate the antibodies, patients may have to be advised to avoid direct sunlight for a short period after treatment.

    Josephine Querido, of Cancer Research UK, said: "Developing treatments that attack cancer cells but leave healthy tissue unharmed is the holy grail of cancer research.

    "Although at a very early stage, this new approach has potential, and we await the outcome of further research with interest."
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