Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Light-activated Drugs
11 August 2015

Light-activated Drugs

Killing cancer cells but minimising side effects is a difficult balancing act for any cancer treatment. Take microtubule inhibitors for example. These commonly used anticancer drugs are excellent at preventing cancer cells from multiplying – they destroy structural proteins (microtubules) required for cell division – but they also block division in healthy cells and cause tissue damage. Targeting these drugs to work only where desired would protect healthy tissues. And now scientists have a possible strategy: microtubule inhibitors that operate only when exposed to blue light. The cancer cells pictured were all treated with one of the new drugs but only the illuminated cells (bottom right panel) had their microtubules (green) destroyed. It might be a while before such light-operated drugs are used in patients – for one thing, an illumination system to target tumours must be established – but in the meantime, the drugs will serve as valuable and highly controllable research tools.

Written by Ruth Williams

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