Micro-scaled photovoltaics could lead to chemotherapy breakthrough

The American Institute of Physics believes that micro-scaled photovoltaic devices could be used to deliver chemotherapy straight to tumours, making it less toxic to surrounding tissue.

Chemotherapeutic drugs are usually run through IV drips into the bloodstream. There they pass through other organs en route to cancerous cells which lead to toxic side effects. Clinicians are after a way to target the drugs straight to tumour tissue which the American Institute of Physics thinks it may be on to. 

At the moment it’s only a hypothesis but assistant professor Tao Xu, Ph.D at the University of Texas, says the team has been able to prove the concept. Xu’s device is designed to release chemotherapeutic drugs only when triggered by infrared or laser light which is believed to penetrate tissues over 10 centimetres deep.

It converts light into electric current. The model system has positively or negatively charged drugs coated to opposite sides of the miniature solar cell. When a beam of light is introduced, the positively charged side of the device will repell and release the positively charged molecules. It worked the same for the negatively charged side and the negative model molecules.

Xu says the amount of the drug released can be controlled according to how much light is introduced. The first phase of the experiment is being used in a vitro model – the next step would be for small animal models.