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A new technique means that cancer can be treated without damaging healthy cells

A nurse works in a room where patients undergo chemotherapy.
A nurse works in a room where patients undergo chemotherapy. / AFP
  • A group of researchers at the University of the Basque Country has developed a photodynamic therapy which locates and only attacks harmful cells

Researchers at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) have managed to create, through a combination of organic and inorganic components, stable nanoparticles for photodynamic therapy, a a treatment that uses special drugs, called photosensitizing agents, along with light to kill cancer cells.

This research by the UPV/EHU into nanoscience could be a solution for cancer which differs from conventional treatments. Byusing silicon nanoparticles and by fixing the components necessary for the photodynamic therapy onto them, the researchers have developed a way of reaching the cancerous cells and acting only upon them. The key is in destroying the harmful cells via the production of radioactive oxygen with the help of light.

Other uses

Unlike conventional treatments against cancer, in which healthy cells in the body are damaged as well as the cancerous ones, photodynamic therapy hardly affects the areas where treatment is not needed. In addition to cancer, this method can also be used to attack microbial cells, bacteria, fungus and viruses.

Researchers at the university's Chemical Physics department have developed nanoparticles which are suitable for use in this type of therapy, and they are working with other research groups with the objective of observing the activity of the nanoparticles.

The nanoparticles consist of several components. There are the nanoparticles which serve as a base and on also some fluorescent molecules which are encapsulated within the nanoparticles, "in order to be able to monitor the nanoparticles, and to make sure they reach the tumour cells," explains Nerea Epelde, a member of the research group.

Hybrids of a different type

The research group at the UPV/EHU has also created hybrid materials of other types. This involves using an inorganic component and introducing between the layers the organic material which is the subject of the study. "In this way, the organic compound stays ordered. The hybrid materials can be very diverse and can have numerous uses. "This subject is being researched all over the world, because it is a field of great interest, and there is room for improvement. The research which has been carried out so far has opened several doors to us, and we will continue to improve and perfect it," she says.