Imagine a technology that allows physicians to target cancer cells with laser precision, sparing a patient’s healthy cells in the process. This is exactly what Kerstin Stenson, MD, director of Rush University Medical Center’s Head and Neck Cancer Program and leader of a new cancer treatment clinical trial, says photoimmunotherapy (PIT) can do for physicians and cancer patients. “This treatment is so unique and promising because its cancer cell-killing power is so selective and immediate,” Stenson says. “It really is just like a guided missile.”
Patients are intravenously dosed with a photosensitizer (a light-sensitive chemical) and a lab-created antibody, both of which bind to receptors only found on cancer cells. Tiny fiber optics are attached to the tumors and hit with lasers, setting off a cell-level explosion that can destroy cancer cells from the inside out. PIT is currently in phase 1 trials at Rush for head and neck cancers, but researchers say more types of cancer could potentially benefit from PIT combined with other types of treatment such as chemotherapy.