The standard care of cancer therapy consists of diagnosis and surgery, followed by chemo and/or radiation therapy. Although this regime works well with some cancers (e.g. testicular cancer), most cancers respond poorly to these treatments (e.g. gliomas) and as a consequence, only marginal improvements in patient survival rates are observed. To solve this problem, our lab is interested in developing new diagnostic tools and treatment platforms that work alongside or replace conventional cancer therapies.
Cancers have different resistive mechanisms against current anticancer drugs. Some of these include: cell death inhibition, DNA damage repair and epigenetic pathways. Knowing the major pathways (or enzymes) that contribute to resistance prior to or during therapy can aid in determining appropriate treatment plans. To this regard, our lab is interested in developing simple fluorescence-based assays to measure the activity of enzymes involved in anticancer drug resistance. Our chemosensors will allow for fast assessment of cancer type and resistance for personalized treatments and will aid the discovery of novel inhibitors to ultimately improve the therapeutic effect of anticancer drugs.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an attractive alternative to chemo and radiation therapy, as it is minimally invasive and does not share the same resistive mechanisms. The procedure typically employs an external light source that excites a photosensitizer (PS) resulting in local production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that induces cell death. The PSs, in addition to producing ROS, are also fluorescent molecules such that fluorescence imaging can be used to determine cancerous regions in a real-time surgical setting. By combining fluorescence imaging with cell ablation, any cancer remaining post-surgery could be removed by PDT. For this strategy to be effective, PSs need to have high selectivity for cancer cells over normal cells. Our lab is interested in developing PSs that become activated in both fluorescence and ROS production in the presence of a cancer biomarker. We will build several probes derived from small molecules that permit in vivo applications of fluorescence-guided PDT.