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Researchers developing new arsenal in war against cancer

Blacksburg, Va. -- In the battle against cancer, Virginia Tech researchers have developed a potential warhead to better kill cancer cells, a new missile to deliver the warhead more efficiently to the diseased areas, and a new detonation device once the warhead is in place.

In a cross-disciplinary effort, the researchers, using photodynamic therapy (PDT), have obtained results in three different areas that, used together, have the possibility of providing more efficient, less invasive, and more specific treatments for cancer and other diseases such as age-related macular-degeneration.

A long-term concept has held that one should be able to use light-activated compounds to kill diseased cells, said Karen Brewer, associate professor of chemistry. The researchers have developed new tri-metallic supra-molecules that can be positioned in exact parts of cancer cells and excited by a therapeutic wavelength at which light propagates efficiently through tissue. Only when the light hits the supra-molecules do they become toxic to the cancer cells.

The advantages are many. The non-surgical process avoids the debilitating side effects of normal chemotherapy. The system enables the scientists to place the supra-molecules at specific locations in cells and to deliver light activating the cancer-killing molecules directly at that spot in a strength that does not harm other tissue. "This allows much lower dosages of light to be effective, so we can use agents that are more aggressive and not get the side effects of chemotherapy," Brewer said.

Researchers Shawn Swavey and Alvin Holder, along with students Lee Williams and Nathan Toft, working in the Brewer laboratory, developed the new mixed-metal supra-molecular complexes (medicines) that Brewer and Brenda Winkel, professor of biology, have proven are capable of photo-cleaving DNA, a normal therapeutic target in cells. The complexes are novel molecules whose chemistry allows the researchers
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Contact: Karen Brewer
kbrewer@vt.edu
540-231-6579
Virginia Tech
13-Dec-2002


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