New approach to treating cancer may be a glowing success

cancer research

Imagine an approach to cancer surgery that offers a virtual road map to show which tissues are malignant and which are not.

The approach sounds almost too good to be true. But thanks to pioneering research in the Oregon State College of Pharmacy, this discovery may ultimately change the efficacy of cancer surgery and treatment around the world.

For decades, the primary treatments for most cancers have been surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. That list may soon include phototherapy — a remarkable concept in which cancer cells are made to glow and enable surgical removal with a precision never before possible — and at the same time kill microscopic cancer cells that can’t be surgically removed.

“This system that can make cancer cells glow is like giving the surgeon an extra pair of eyes,” says Olena Taratula, a assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy and lead author on one of the most recent studies. “And the compound we’re working with now is inexpensive and appears effective at killing any cancer cells that remain.”

Taratula and her husband, Oleh Taratula, also an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, have collaborated to make several important advances just in the past year. A single agent has been identified that can be concentrated in cancer cells. Then, in the presence of near-infrared light, those cells glow, even as the compound is helping to kill them.

Tumors have been completely eradicated without side effects in laboratory animals. More animal research is planned, including studies with dogs in collaboration with Shay Bracha, a veterinary oncologist, and Milan Milovancev, a veterinary surgeon, at Oregon State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Human trials will be needed before the system is ready for wider use. But the potential of this concept is extraordinary.

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