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New device promises safer way to deliver powerful drugs

A new drug delivery device designed and constructed by Jie Chen, Thomas Cesario and Peter Rentzepis promises to unlock the potential of photosensitive chemicals to kill drug-resistant infections and perhaps cancer tumors as well.

Photosensitive chemicals are molecules that release single oxygen atoms and chemical radicals when illuminated. These radicals are very active chemically, and can rip apart and destroy bacteria, said Peter Rentzepis, a professor of chemistry at University of California, Irvine.

Yet photosensitive chemicals are not approved for use in the United States, and used relatively rarely in Europe. This is because they are highly toxic and difficult to activate beneath the skin, since light only penetrates a few millimeters into the body.

Photosensitive chemicals also cause severe reactions, including headaches, nausea, and light sensitivity for 30 days. They kill healthy cells as well as bacteria. Although several have therapeutic potential, they are too toxic for human use by injection.

The researchers solved this problem with an optical fiber-based device that can deliver very small amounts of photosensitive chemicals to internal organs with pinpoint accuracy.

The device consists of three components. The first is an imaging component similar to the charge coupled devices (CCDs) in digital cameras. It enables a physician to guide the device to the infection.

A 1-millimeter-diameter flexible optical fiber attached micro sized high-power LED or laser diode provides the light for the CCD. Once the physician positions the device, the same light source shines with greater intensity to activate the medicine.

The third component is a hollow tube connected to a syringe of medicine to deliver the medicine to the infection. Rentzepis adds glycol, a thickening agent used in surgical soaps, to keep the medicine from spreading to healthy cells.

Pulling the syringe backwards creates a vacuum that sucks up any remaining chemical after the procedure.

"We can insert the instrument through the nose, bowels, mouth, or almost any opening and direct it where we want," Rentzepis said. "It lets us deliver very small amounts of these chemicals right to an infection or tumor, then remove them before they damage healthy cells."

The researchers plan to test the device on animals with infections and cancer.


The American Institute of Physics is a federation of 10 physical science societies representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world's largest publishers of scientific information in the physical sciences. Offering partnership solutions for scientific societies and for similar organizations in science and engineering, AIP is a leader in the field of electronic publishing of scholarly journals. AIP publishes 12 journals (some of which are the most highly cited in their respective fields), two magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation hosts nearly two million articles from more than 185 scholarly journals and other publications of 28 learned society publishers.


Review of Scientific Instruments, published by the American Institute of Physics, is devoted to scientific instruments, apparatus, and techniques. Its contents include original and review articles on instruments in physics, chemistry, and the life sciences; and sections on new instruments and new materials. One volume is published annually. Conference proceedings are occasionally published and supplied in addition to the Journal's scheduled monthly issues. RSI publishes information on instruments, apparatus, techniques of experimental measurement, and related mathematical analysis. Since the use of instruments is not confined to the physical sciences, the journal welcomes contributions from any of the physical and biological sciences and from related cross-disciplinary areas of science and technology. See:

Charles Blue | EurekAlert!
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