Pulses of light turn on cancer ‘death signal’

"Activating peptides with light will allow us to precisely define the area where we wish a peptide to act," says Rudolf Allemann. (Credit: DhanaVanthan/Flickr)

Researchers have created a peptide—a small piece of protein—that when linked to a light-responsive dye is able to switch on death pathways in cancer cells.

The peptide remains inactive until exposed to external light pulses, which convert it into a cell death signal.

The new technology, called transient photoactivation, could help scientists identify cells normally resistant to chemotherapy and may lead to more effective treatment strategies.

Rudolf Allemann, professor of chemistry at Cardiff University, says while the goal is to kill cancer cells, the technology is proof of a wider principle.

“Directing therapeutic peptides to the precise location where they are required can be difficult, but activating peptides with light will allow us to precisely define the area where we wish a peptide to act.

“Our research demonstrates that we can control cellular processes with light, which has implications for research in biology and medicine, as our tools can be used to understand the inner workings of cells and to work out how to correct misfiring pathways that lead to disease.

“This work may eventually lead to photo-controlled drugs and tools to probe molecular interactions in intact cells and whole organisms with enormous consequences for biomedical research.”

The technology is described in the journal Molecular Biosystems.

Source: Cardiff University