A novel technique which uses light to activate a drug stored in circulating red blood cells has been developed by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

This method allows drugs to be released precisely when and where they are needed while reducing the amount of drug needed to treat the condition and its related side effects. Using light to release drugs at a disease site can provide benefits such as “avoiding surgery and the risk of infection, making anesthesia unnecessary, and allowing people to treat themselves by shining a light on a problem area, such as an arthritic knee,” stated Professor David Lawrence in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.  

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Professor Lawrence and colleagues attached a drug molecule to vitamin B12 and loaded the compound into red blood cells. Red blood cells can circulate for up to 4 months, serving as a long-lasting depot for the medicine to be accessed. The team then created a weak energy bond between the drug and vitamin B12, and attached a fluorescent molecule to the bond. This molecule captures the long wavelength light and uses it to break the bond between the drug and the vitamin carrier. 

Diseases such as cancer, which sometimes require treatment with multiple toxic drugs, may cause intolerable side effects. By using this technique and focusing potent medications at a specific site, the researchers hope to potentially decrease side effects typically associated with cancer chemotherapy. 

The researchers plan to further develop this breakthrough technology for use in humans.

For more information visit onlinelibrary.wiley.com.