A Shining New Therapy

Lung cancer continues to be a deadly killer. But a pair of medical technology firms, Xillix Technologies of Richmond, British Columbia, and Miravant Medical Technologies of Santa Barbara, Calif., are hoping to join two newly developed technologies that could offer a far more efficient way of catching lung cancer early and destroying it.

Xillix’ contribution is an imaging device, called LIFE-lung, that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1996. The technology uses certain wavelengths of laser light to illuminate the organ; cancerous (and even precancerous) tissues fluoresce in reddish hues. Miravant is one of several companies working on photodynamic therapy (PDT) for treating lung cancer. This technique involves injecting the patient with a photosensitive drug that concentrates in cancerous tissues; when activated by red laser light, the drug destroys these cells.

In clinical trials, PDT technology has proved promising. But one drawback has been that physicians aiming the laser are, in effect, shooting in the dark. The hope is that LIFE-lung would enable the oncologist to aim the laser at the drug-drenched cancer cells far more accurately by illuminating the cancer’s contours.

The combined technology may not win the war against lung cancer, but it may shed light on a promising new strategy.

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