A single dose and a beam of light can kill up to 95% of cancer cells in 2 hours, according to preclinical research on a novel approach to tumor resection. Photodynamic cancer therapy may be a treatment option for people whose tumors are inoperable or hard-to-reach.1

The research involves injecting nitrobenzaldehyde into the tumor and then allowing it to diffuse into the tissues. Next, a beam of light is aimed at the tissue that causes the cells to become very acidic and, essentially, commit suicide. An estimated 95% of the targeted cancer cells die within 2 hours.

“Even though there are many different types of cancers, the one thing they have in common is their susceptibility to this induced cell suicide,” said Matthew Gdovin, PhD, an associate professor in the University of Texas San Antonio Department of Biology. He has patented this new method.

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Using mouse models, Gdovin tested his method on triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer that is very difficult to treat. The tumor stopped growing and survival rates doubled in mice after 1 treatment in the laboratory.

“All forms of cancer attempt to make cells acidic on the outside as a way to attract the attention of a blood vessel, which attempts to get rid of the acid,” he said. “Instead, the cancer latches onto the blood vessel and uses it to make the tumor larger and larger.”

This method avoids the systemic toxicities associated with chemotherapy because it is more precise and targets only the tumor. The photodynamic cancer therapy is noninvasive. The hope is that this method will be effective for tumors in areas that are problematic for surgeons, such as the brain stem, aorta, or spine. In addition, the method it could help people who have received the maximum amount of radiation treatment and can no longer cope with the scarring and pain that goes along with it, or children who are at risk of developing mutations from radiation as they grow older.


1. Kadri NB, Gdovin M, Alyassin N, et al. Photodynamic acidification therapy to reduce triple negative breast cancer growth in vivo. J Clin Oncol. 2016; 34(15suppl):e12574.