Light used to kill cancer in Aussie breakthrough
EXCLUSIVE: Light is the latest weapon in the war on cancer with Australian scientists successfully using it to kill ovarian cancer cells and basal cell skin cancers.
The breakthrough new treatment involves injecting into the body a photosensitising chlorophyll-based chemical called chlorin e4 sodium that is derived from plants.
In skin cancer it is used as a gel applied to the skin.
The chemical is selectively taken up by cancer tumours and when light from a laser is directed at the site it activates the chemical producing a form of oxygen that destroys cancer cells without damaging nearby tissue.
Unlike surgery or chemotherapy the treatment is non invasive and it is not toxic.
Trials of an earlier, weaker version of the chemical showed the treatment not only killed the cancer but activated the body's immune system and it is hoped this will help fight any new cancer that emerges.
The new therapy called IVX-PO2 is about to be tested on mice and is expected to enter human clinical trials next year on basal skin cancer and ovarian cancer.
The treatment is licensed to Australian company Invion and it is being made here in Australia.
Hudson Institute scientist Dr Andrew Stephens says the therapy holds great promise for treating ovarian cancer but is expected to work in other cancers including lung, prostate and skin cancers.
A weaker version of the treatment has been used on cancer patients in China and on prostate patients in Australia.
This showed the treatment to be safe and well tolerated and it was able to reduce prostate size.
Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest female cancers because it is usually diagnosed too late and it recurs quickly after treatment killing 1000 women a year.
New research by Dr Stephens shows the light therapy overcomes the resistance ovarian cancer cells build to chemotherapy treatment "and the potency demonstrated in these findings is quite significant".
"We were able to show the new compound effectively killed chemotherapy resistant cells and they can't develop resistance to the treatment because the kill is immediate," he says.
He hopes if it works in humans the treatment will be able to lift the survival rates of ovarian cancer patients.
Light therapies have been around since the 1970s however they were susceptible to ordinary atmospheric light.
Patients undergoing treatment sometimes had to be locked in darkened rooms for three to six months.
The chlorin e4 sodium treatment is less susceptible to atmospheric light and does not appear to work until it is specifically activated by a specific wavelength of light delivered by a laser.
The chemical used in the treatment is non-toxic, and in its natural state is used by plants to capture light providing energy to grow the plant.
Humans already consume a form of the chemical when they eat foods like lettuce and spinach, Dr Stephens said.
At present there are no known side effects which means it could be possible for women with ovarian cancer to have repeated rounds of treatment.