A new study by Rice University scientists and collaborators has revealed a novel way to destroy cancer cells by using light-induced vibrations of dye molecules. The method, dubbed as molecular jackhammers, has shown remarkable results in lab tests and animal models.
Molecular jackhammers are aminocyanine molecules, a class of fluorescent synthetic dyes used for medical imaging. These molecules have a symmetrical body and a long side arm that can vibrate in unison when stimulated by near-infrared light. This vibration creates a plasmon, a collective oscillation of electrons in the molecule.
The plasmon generates a strong mechanical force that can rupture the cell membrane of cancerous cells, causing them to die. The researchers call this mechanism “plasmonic nanobubble lysis”.
How effective are molecular jackhammers?
The researchers tested the molecular jackhammers on cultured human melanoma cells and mice with melanoma tumors. They found that the method had a 99 percent efficiency against the lab-grown cancer cells, and half of the mice became cancer-free after treatment.
The molecular jackhammers are more than one million times faster than the previous nanoscale drills developed by the same team, which used visible light to spin a paddlelike chain of atoms and bore through the cell membrane. The molecular jackhammers also have the advantage of using near-infrared light, which can penetrate deeper into the body without damaging the tissue.
What are the implications of molecular jackhammers?
The molecular jackhammers represent a new generation of molecular machines that can target and kill cancer cells without harming the healthy ones. They can also overcome the problem of drug resistance, which is a major challenge in cancer therapy.
The researchers hope that the molecular jackhammers can be used to treat various types of cancers, especially those that are hard to reach or resistant to conventional treatments. They also plan to optimize the design and delivery of the molecules, and test them on more animal models and human trials.