Known as the medicine of light, photopharmacology, a specialty with a very short lifespan, has become one of the areas of current medicine with the greatest growth potential.
All because of the promise of a new generation of light-sensitive treatments and medications that use this radiation to treat different disorders at the most appropriate time and place.
“Photopharmacology works on the design of drugs that can be activated and deactivated with light, intended to create more precise and safer therapies for patients.“
This specialty can address everything from mental problems and infections to diabetes, vision damage or decisive improvement in oncological treatments.
But what exactly is photopharmacology?
What real benefits does it bring?
What situation are you in?
Keep reading to get the answer to these and other questions.
What is photopharmacology?
It is an emerging field at the intersection of pharmacology and photobiology that promises to revolutionize the therapeutic approach in various medical areas.
This innovative discipline uses light to selectively activate or deactivate drugs specifically designed to interact with it. This seeks to combine the therapeutic benefits of drugs with the precision of light.
That is, we are looking at a design of photosensitive molecules that can respond to specific light stimuli.
These molecules can be activated or inactivated by exposure to different wavelengths of light, allowing for finer and more precise regulation of their action in the body.
What does it really consist of?
Having in our hands a drug that we can introduce into the human body, leaving it inactive until we decide when, where and in what way it should act.
In addition, we can use light to activate and deactivate this drug in the part of the body we want, for as long as we want and with an intensity specified by us.
Areas of great potential
Photopharmacology has found promising applications in a variety of fields, from oncology to neuroscience and ophthalmology.
One of the most notable examples is the development of photosensitive drugs for cancer treatment, where light is used to activate drugs only in tumor areas, thus minimizing side effects on surrounding healthy tissues.
Advantages and challenges of photopharmacology
Compared to traditional therapeutic methods, photopharmacology offers a number of notable advantages:
- Provides precise targeting of therapy to specific areas of the body, minimizing damage to surrounding tissues and reducing side effects.
- Allows you to personalize the treatment
- Reduces drug resistance by activating or inactivating drugs as needed, decreasing the chances of developing drug resistance.
- It has enormous potential for more effective combination therapies.
On the other hand, the complexity of its design slows down its development, patient safety must be closely monitored, and it is currently quite an expensive technology, so its implementation is still ‘in its infancy’.
Opening new ways for cancer treatment
That is the main conclusion of a recent study by researchers from the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (IQAC) of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and which has been published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
The researchers developed a series of photosensitive molecules that act on histone deacetylase (HDAC) enzymes, achieving a much more localized and controlled effect.
“Photopharmacology paves the treatment of oncology.“
This would pave the way for highly specific therapies and open new avenues for treating cancer.
Laia Josa Culleré, researcher in the Medicinal Chemistry and Synthesis group at IQAC, points out that this therapy is going to be a “solid alternative for the treatment of certain types of cancer.”
It would significantly reduce side effects, avoiding toxic effects throughout the body. Furthermore, the researcher highlights that “to date, these types of drugs are in the experimental phase for applications in retina or pain, but there are not many studies with good results in oncology.”
When will you be able to get to the clinic?
It is expected that in the next decade, since there is still a long way to go.
Latest advances in photopharmacology to reduce cardiac injuries or restore vision
To analyze how this promising technique works, two events were held in March 2023 where the advances of the latest major research in photopharmacology were presented.
He especially highlighted the project of Professor Amadeu Llebaria as leader in the IQAC-CSIC of PhotoHeart, which seeks to minimize the damage caused by the repercussions after a myocardial infarction.
The initiative, in consortium with Vall d’Hebron Research Institute and The Hopkins University (United States), is developing a photopharmacological therapy to locally administer the optimal dose of a new type of cardioprotective drug, regulated by light, which can activated by illuminating specific areas of the heart during the first minutes of angioplasty, the primary treatment that dilates the blocked blood vessel.
On the other hand, the team of which Dr. Núria Camarero, researcher in the Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches group of the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), and led by Pau Gorostiza (IBEC), is promoting a project in which it attempts to develop a photosensitive drug to cure blindness.
This could be useful for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, one of the most common causes of blindness, in which the photosensitive cells of the retina are lost, but the neurons behind them are preserved.
“In short, photopharmacology is already a vibrant area in medicine that has the potential to transform the way we approach and treat various diseases.“