UAMS Scientist Receives $272,000 Grant for Tailoring Cancer Treatments with Laser Test

By todd

With more research, the test, in development at the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at UAMS, could enable physicians to check the effects of chemotherapy on tissue samples from individual patients before using them on the patients themselves. This type of tailored treatment is known as “personalized medicine.” The innovation may also apply to radiation therapy.

Vladimir Zharov, Ph.D., is developing the highly sensitive test, called a photothermal (PT) assay, He is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of laser research and the Phillips Classic Laser Laboratory at UAMS. He is working on the project in conjunction with a colleague, Dmitri Lapotko, Ph.D., of the Republic of Belarus, a nation in eastern Europe.

The new technique has several advantages over conventional methods of testing in vitro cells, such as florescence imaging. Since most cells are non-florescent, they have to be chemically pre-treated for that kind of test, which sometimes changes the structure of the cell and distorts the impact of the drug. Zharov’s test can measure the effect of substances such as therapeutic drugs on non-florescent cell structures without changing them; can view much smaller cellular structures than are detectable through a conventional microscope; can visualize the local heat caused by the laser and study its effect at the sub-cellular level.

Scientists can also read the results of the PT assay instantly, whereas other methods take hours or days. Zharov and his colleagues are the only scientists in the world using the PT technique.

The grant from NCI, a division of the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., is for a two-year research project, which will run through April 2005. Zharov also has a $296,000 grant for the project from the National Science Foundation.

The goal of the first phase of the study is to see how cells respond to laser radiation, using existing cell lines to compare the responses of cancer cells to healthy cells. Zharov’s hypothesis is that light-absorbing molecules within the cells, called chromophores, might be targets of various kinds of drug toxicity and thus serve as natural drug action indicators. In the next phase he will study their particular responses to specific drugs. The ultimate goal is to learn enough about specific responses to optimize new drug treatments.

“In cancer treatment it’s very important to kill as many of the cancer cells as possible, and diminish the damage to healthy cells surrounding the cancer cells,” Zharov said.

“That’s why we think our assay can be used for optimization of treatment for individual patients. It’s a very fast, very sensitive assay, which may allow us to predict an individual patient’s response to chemotherapy and perhaps radiation therapy.”

Zharov, who came to UAMS in 2000 from the Bauman Moscow (Russia) State University of Technology, has spent more than 25 years researching biomedical applications for laser techniques. He is also currently working on a laser treatment he invented for treatment of lymphedema, a type of swelling of the extremities that afflicts some patients with cancer.