This Revolutionary New Tech Uses Light to Activate Medicine

January 4, 2017, 11:38 PM UTC

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a novel experimental technique with the potential to curb drug side effects, better target treatments, activate medicines when they’re needed—all by simply using light.

The scientists, led by UNC-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Professor David Lawrence, used a quadrafecta of vitamin B12, a therapy attached to the vitamin via a weak energy bond, and a molecule that responds to light (also connected to this weak bond) all wrapped up into a red blood cell in order to create a moving drug delivery vessel that can be activated on demand via long-wavelength light.

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The weak energy bond and light-sensitive molecules are the critical parts of the experimental tech, since long-wavelength light can’t usually penetrate the body as deeply as would be needed to make such a technique work. But the combination of those two components allows this type of light to reach the targeted area and break up the bond between the medicine and the B12.

Lawrence says that this method could have wide-ranging merits beyond just being a “cool” way to administer medicine.

“Those benefits could include 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,” he said.

He also specifically pointed to cancer treatment as a field where the technique could come in handy by letting doctors and patients activate powerful drugs in a more targeted way, potentially reducing the need for multi-therapy cocktails that can become toxic.

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