A press release from the American Institute of Physics claims that miniature photovoltaic devices are being developed for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs directly to tumors, rendering chemotherapy less toxic to surrounding tissue.

Doctors are searching for a way to deliver these powerful drugs only where needed – to target them specifically to tumor tissue. A new device developed by Tao Xu, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, may do just that. The device releases drugs only when stimulated by light, focusing it directly on a tumor during treatment. Near infrared or laser light is believed to penetrate tissues over 10 cm deep.

Xu and his colleagues presented their findings today at the AVS 57th International Symposium & Exhibition in Albuquerque, N.M. (AVS is an vacuum science society associated with AIP).

According to the release, the novel device converts light into electric current. In an in vitro model system, positively or negatively charged “model” drugs were used to coated opposite sides of the miniature solar cell. Upon introduction of a light beam, one side of the device became positively charged, repelling the positive charged molecules the investigators had placed there, releasing them; the same thing happened with the negatively charged side and negative model molecules.

It appears that “our hypothesis will work,” says Xu, adding that the amount of drug released can also be controlled by varying the intensity of light. The first phase employed an in vitro model; according to Xu, the next step for the work would be its application in small animal models.

Xu’s presentation is titled “Release of Biomolecules from a Photovoltaic Device for Targeted Drug Delivery.”