This implantable LED device uses light to fight deep-seated cancers

This miniature, implantable LED device fights cancer with light. Credit: University of Notre Dame.

Engineers and scientists at the University of Notre Dame have developed a groundbreaking wireless LED device that can be implanted to treat cancers deep within the body.

This device, combined with a light-sensitive dye, not only kills cancer cells but also stimulates the immune system to target and attack the cancer.

Certain types of light, when combined with a light-activated drug, have proven effective in treating cancers near the skin. However, cancers located deeper in the body, surrounded by tissue, blood, and bone, have been out of reach for this light-based therapy.

The new implantable LED device aims to change that.

“Certain colors of light penetrate tissue deeper than others,” explained Thomas O’Sullivan, an associate professor of electrical engineering and co-author of the study.

“We found that green light, which doesn’t penetrate as deeply, can produce a strong response against cancer cells.”

To make the light effective, a dye containing light-absorbing molecules is first administered to the cancer cells.

When the device is activated, the dye converts the light into energy, making the cells’ own oxygen toxic. This essentially turns the cancer cells against themselves, causing them to die.

While other treatments also use the cells’ oxygen against them, this device causes a specific type of cell death called pyroptosis.

“Pyroptosis causes the treated cells to swell, which is a sign that triggers a strong immune response,” said Bradley Smith, co-author of the study and the Emil T. Hofman Professor of Science. “Our goal is to cause a small amount of pyroptotic cell death to activate the immune system to attack the cancer.”

In upcoming studies, the device will be tested in mice to determine if the immune response triggered in one tumor can prompt the immune system to attack other tumors in the body.

The device, which is the size of a grain of rice, can be injected directly into a tumor and activated remotely using an external antenna.

O’Sullivan noted that the device could not only deliver treatment but also monitor the tumor’s response. This would allow adjustments to the signal strength and timing to optimize the treatment.

The research, published in Photodiagnosis and Photodynamic Therapy, represents a significant advancement in cancer treatment, offering hope for more effective therapies for deep-seated cancers.

This innovative approach has the potential to bring the benefits of light-based cancer therapy to patients with tumors previously considered untreatable with this method.

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