A University of Central Florida chemist has come up with a unique way to kill certain cancer cells - give them acid reflux.
Chemistry professor Kevin Belfield used a special salt to make cancer cells more acidic - similar to the way greasy foods cause acid reflux in some people. He used a light-activated, acid-generating molecule to make the cells more acidic when exposed to specific wavelengths of light, which in turn kills the bad cells. The surrounding healthy cells stay intact.
The technique is a simple way around a problem that has frustrated researchers for years. For photodynamic therapy (the special laser-light treatment) to work, cancer cells loaded with photosensitizers need oxygen to trigger the fatal reaction. But by their very nature, most cancer cells lack oxygen. Nonetheless, scientists were intent on making the photodynamic system work because it offers a way to target cancer cells deep within human tissue without causing a lot of collateral damage.
Instead of focusing on oxygen, Belfield flipped the problem around and found another way to poison the bad cells, while protecting the healthy ones.
"It's the first time we've found a way around the oxygen problem," Belfield said. "This work is truly ground breaking. It should eventually provide a therapeutic means to treat certain types of cancers with minimal side effects. It should also be a very useful tool for cell biologists and biomedical researchers. It could even find a place in treating other diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases."
His work was recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/ja3122312)