Who To Watch: Samuel Achilefu, PhD

This month we’re watching Samuel Achilefu, PhD, a scientist and inventor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. Achilefu and his lab are featured in this month’s episode of Innovations for his innovative work using light to activate drugs and the immune system. The approach may be a safer and more effective way to treat breast cancer than current chemotherapy drugs.

achilefu_f_l-700x467For his and his lab’s work Achilefu has been recognized as the first recipient of the Breast Cancer Research Program Distinguished Investigator Award, from the U.S. Department of Defense which comes with $4.5 million to support his research.

The approach, called photoimmunotherapy, delivers light directly to tumor cells, as an imaging agent frequently used in positron emission tomography (PET) scans. This light source, along with a new cancer-targeting product and a chemotherapy drug, selectively kills cancer cells.

In addition to being safer, the treatment also has the potential to help those with Metestatic cancer, which is typically resistant to chemotherapy. Metastatic disease is responsible for more than 90 percent of the 41,000 breast cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.

Achilefu will also be featured on this month’s Explore! Inventions show for his previous invention of “cancer goggles” that help a doctor determine which cells are healthy and which are cancerous during surgery.


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