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.
Originally published in the Spring 2017 print edition
Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.