Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Super-fast laser technique helping target cancer

British scientists are using super-fast lasers to help develop new anti-cancer treatments.

Using lasers to take pictures of a process that occurs in half a billionth of a second, the scientists are observing how a light-activated compound alters the structure of DNA. This is crucial knowledge in improving photo-dynamic therapy, which is used to treat a number of conditions including several cancers and psoriasis. The therapy uses light to activate a drug in a specific area of the body.

They’ve used a DNA crystal to get around the difficulties of observing such fast processes in living cells.

CLF’s Dr Mike Towrie said: “Metal complexes that bind to DNA are now used in chemotherapies for cancer, or have potential activity against drug resistant bacteria. We’ve been able to use our highly sensitive Ultra facility to examine interactions at a molecular level.”

By using infrared radiation, the research team could get a snapshot of the extremely fast process that takes place when light is shone on the crystals. This activates the compound, making it cause damage to DNA.

More information

Marion O’Sullivan
STFC Press Office
Tel: 01235 445627
Mob: 07824 888990

Notes for editors:

  1. The research is published in Nature Chemistry.
  2. A key element of the funding for the collaboration has been provided by the Royal Irish Academy-Royal Society exchange programme, running since 2008 between Trinity College Dublin and the University of Reading.
  3. The Central Laser Facility (CLF) at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is one of the world’s leading laser facilities providing scientists from the UK and Europe with an unparalleled range of state of the art technology. Wide-ranging laser applications include experiments in physics, chemistry and biology, accelerating subatomic particles to high energies, probing chemical reactions and studying biochemical and biophysical processes. Our laser facilities range from advanced, compact tuneable lasers which can pinpoint individual particles to high power laser installations that recreate the conditions inside stars. A vigorous development programme ensures that our facilities maintain their international competitiveness.
  4. Diamond Light Source, a joint venture between the UK Government via STFC and the Wellcome Trust, is located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. By accelerating electrons to near light-speed, Diamond generates brilliant beams of light from infra-red to X-rays which are used for academic and industry research and development across a range of scientific disciplines including structural biology, physics, chemistry, materials science, engineering, earth and environmental sciences.


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