Fresh hope for cancer patients

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After years of extensive research, Prof. Qing Bin Lu of the University of Waterloo and his team have found a candidate drug that effectively attacks cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The research was based on femtomedicine, which investigates biological processes that are closely related to diseases and their treatments with the use of ultrafast lasers. Lu and his team have been researching the relatively new field of femtomedicine for the last 11 years. They produced their first candidate drugs approximately five years ago, but this is the first iteration that has been successful.</p>

“We didn’t know it was going to be so good,” Lu said. 

His research applies the femtosecond ultrafast spectroscopy technique (pump-probe treatment), which is typically used to measure the chemical reactions of molecules with ultrashort pulse lasers in order to study form and structure changes on extremely short time scales. This technique has revealed a lot about the molecular mechanism of DNA damage and could lead to an alternative way of treating cancer cells, without the toxicity inherent in chemotherapy.

After the creation of the candidate drug, the team will start testing on DNA cells.

“We want to understand how cancer is initiated and then we can get a certain understanding of the molecule,” Lu said.

Lu explained that the main difference between femtomedicine and the now ubiquitous chemotherapy treatment is that his method is a type of target therapy and non-toxic.

“The most important advantage of our candidate drug is that it is essentially non-toxic. We have tested chemicals that indicate that this kind of compound can have a protective effect towards normal cells and tissues,” Lu said.

Target therapy refers to capillary antibiotic drugs, which directly inserts certain kinds of antibodies into cancer cells.

“It’s very simple. We just use the compound to automatically target the cancer cells,” Lu said.

This method could be an effective treatment for many different types of cancers, which at this stage of the research are lung, ovarian, breast, cervix, neck, and head. Lu’s team, which fluctuates from eight to 10 members and includes undergraduate and post-doctoral students, research technicians, and alumni, worked in collaboration with scientists from countries such as Germany and the United States as well as other researchers in Canada in order to establish this list.

Lu told Imprint that there are a lot of regulations and procedures that the candidate drug has to pass before entering the clinical testing period. “I think that it could take about five years,” he said.

After hearing about the team’s new treatment, cancer patients, as well as their friends and families, have contacted Lu inquiring about the drug and its applications.

“I have received many voicemails; most of them came from cancer patients or from their families,” said Lu, emphasizing the hope this new drug has inspired and the pressure it has put on him and his team to reach the clinical-level trials as fast as possible in order to help those suffering from the disease.

Lu explained that they were motivated to conduct this research because new cancer treatments have always been in high demand due to the commonality of the disease. He added that cancer represents a large scientific challenge because of the complexity of the disease and because treatment varies depending on the body part.

Lu expressed his gratitude for the continuous funding and support from the University of Waterloo as well as the Canadian Institute of Health over the past decade.

“Their help has been very important because without their support and funding we wouldn’t have been able to do this research,” concluded Lu.

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