Targeted Light Therapy for Ovarian Cancer in Mice

Grantee: Mingfeng Bai, PhD*
Institution: Vanderbilt University Medical Center 
Focus Area: Cancer Drug Discovery
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2021

The Challenge: Most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at late stages when tumors have spread to other areas of the body. Treatment for ovarian cancer is usually surgery followed by chemotherapy. But sometimes cancer cells or tiny tumors are left behind after surgery. Some tumors may also resist chemotherapy, “refusing” to die. As a result, the cancer can return, often in less than 2 years, and for most women it is diagnosed at a late stage.

The Research: In his lab, Mingfeng Bai, PhD, is trying to develop a light-sensitive compound that binds to cancer cells. The goal is for the compound is to be especially attracted to ovarian cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy. Light will activate the compound to kill cancer cells.

Then Bai and his team plan to test the effectiveness of the compound on cells in the lab and then in mice. They expect few side effects because of the way they plan for the compound to target cancer cells and because should not be toxic without light. 

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: If the treatment works well in mice, the next step would be to test it in women. Their ultimate goal is for any tumor cells still in the body to be destroyed by using the light on an endoscope to activate the drug inside the cells, thereby preventing the cancer from coming back and the need for more surgery.  

*Funded by Pennsylvania CEOs Against Cancer