Thrust 4 – Enhancement Strategies in Photodynamic Therapy

Despite the progress over the past decades in detecting and treating cancer, an outstanding problem in oncology is the battle against microscopic metastatic disease. The vast majority of cancer-related deaths are associated with the multitude of disseminated metastatic lesions that occur throughout the body. These lesions are often far too small and widespread to detect and resect, and in many cases become resistant to therapeutic intervention. How these lesions resist treatment is not well understood, as we are currently unable to visualize treatment response on the microscale in vivo. Some exemplary projects are as follows:

Topic 1: Image-based quantification of PDT response

The Hasan Lab is a world-leading group in the field of photodynamic therapy (PDT). The lab is exerting considerable engineering efforts toward the development of online molecular imaging techniques and imaging agents to quantify tumor cell pro-survival signaling during photodynamic therapy of tumor cells. Such tools help us determine the key time points and spatial localizations of the tumor signaling factors responsible for post-treatment survival and disease recurrence. This information in turn can be used to rationally design and optimize new combination treatments. Research opportunities are available for students in the application of a hyperspectral fluorescence microendoscope and the design and construction of target-specific photoactivatable nanoconstructs for both imaging and cancer treatment.

Topic 2: Visualizing Hypoxia on the Microscale in Cancer

Hypoxia is a major cause of treatment resistance in all cancers. However, little is known about the distribution of hypoxia and how this distribution affects therapeutic efficacy. The Evans Lab seeks to overcome these challenges through innovative engineering and imaging approaches to build a comprehensive, cellular-level picture of treatment response and resistance in disseminated metastatic cancer. Past student contributions to the Evans lab have already aided in obtaining critical information that we hope will lead to new therapeutic regimens. Students will work closely with Prof. Evans and his team to map and quantify hypoxia and therapeutic response across several potential projects. In one project, students will have the opportunity to construct a phosphorescence lifetime microscope, and apply the new technology towards imaging oxygen concentrations in cells. In a second project, students develop and apply molecular oxygen probes for deep tissue, cellular-level real-time oxygen imaging.