UB researchers awarded AGAUR-LLAVOR grant to design new anticancer agents for photodynamic therapy

The University of Barcelona, through its technology and innovation transfer office the Bosch i Gimpera Foundation, has been awarded a €20,000 grant for a project led by Dr Vicente Marchán, of the Department of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry of the UB Faculty of Chemistry, to design new anticancer agents for photodynamic therapy.

Photodynamic therapy is a promising medical technique to treat certain types of cancer that can’t be tackled with conventional approaches. It consists in eliminating tumours by activating specific compounds, called photosensitisers, using light in the presence of oxygen. It is a non-invasive process that doesn’t interfere with other treatments, and toxicity is limited to the regions where the three components used (light, oxygen, photosensitisers) overlap.

Despite these advantages, photodynamic therapy still has its limitations, including access to deep tumours, given the limited penetration of short wavelength light and low oxygen levels, which limits the efficacy of the photosensitisers in current clinical use. The research team led by Dr Marchán has designed compounds proven to be very effective against cancer cells when activated using red and near infrared light, which can penetrate deep into tissue. Plus, they have seen good results in hypoxic conditions, which means low oxygen levels.

The project’s main goals are to design new photosensitisers and assess their anticancer activity in hypoxic conditions to show they can be used to treat deep hypoxic tumours.

The project, with reference number 2021LLAV00083, has received a Knowledge Industry Grant in the category ‘Llavor grants for innovative projects with the potential for being incorporated into the production sector’.

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