01 July 2009
A groundbreaking non-invasive breast cancer treatment will be unveiled at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Scientists led by world-renowned breast cancer expert, Mr Mo Keshtgar, are the first to use photodynamic therapy (PDT) to treat what is now the most common cancer in the UK.*
PDT uses light to destroy cancer cells, doing away with the need for invasive surgery, and possibly offering an alternative to radiotherapy in some cases. PDT works by giving the patient a drug that makes the target area sensitive to light. The drug is activated when light a low power red laser is beamed at the area. The process starves the cells of oxygen, causing them to die.
Trials will be conducted at London's Royal Free Hospital, where Mr Keshtgar has been working with a technical and scientific team that includes Professor Stephen Bown of the National Medical Laser Centre, University College London and Professor Tayyeba Hasan of Harvard Medical School, Boston USA.
Mr Keshtgar says:
"The key appeal of photodynamic therapy is that it attacks and destroys cancer cells while retaining the viability of the surrounding normal cells. Breast cancer can be particularly traumatic, with more invasive treatments leaving physical and emotional scars. Our treatment will keep the structure of the connective tissue intact meaning the breast does not become deformed or lose shape."
The treatment is already available for skin cancer (non-melanoma), mouth cancer, and some other cancers. But the team is the first to apply it to breast cancer. Trials are also underway with PDT for prostate and bile duct and pancreatic cancer.
The team will be exhibiting an array of breast cancer tools used and developed by clinicians and researchers at the Royal Free, UCL and University College Hospital, including an award-winning elastic scattering spectroscopy (ESS) scanner.
ESS is an optical diagnostic technique which uses light to diagnose cancer in the lymph glands of breast cancer patients. The lymph glands drain and filter fluids from all parts of the body. The first lymph gland in the armpit to receive breast fluid from cancer is called the sentinel lymph node (SLN).
Mr Keshtgar says:
"Using the ESS scanner, we will be able to identify cancer in the SLN during operations and avoid second surgeries as well as further psychological trauma to patients. It will also have significant costs benefits to the NHS. We're literally diagnosing cancer by shining flashes of light."
The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens to the public at 10.00hrs today (Tuesday 30 June), showcases cutting edge research in science and engineering from across the UK. It runs until Saturday 4 July and is free and open to the public. The Exhibition is held annually at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science.
*CancerStats Key Facts on Breast Cancer, Cancer Research UK (May 2009)