Researchers from Pusan National University and Medical Research Center of Color Seven in South Korea have demonstrated that irradiation with blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) influences the growth of pancreatic cancer cells but not that of normal, healthy cells. According to the scientists, their findings indicate that “blue LEDs could be used as a nonpharmacological treatment for pancreatic cancer.”
Their research was published in the Journal of Cellular Physiology under the title, “Light‐emitting diode irradiation induces AKT/mTOR‐mediated apoptosis in human pancreatic cancer cells and xenograft mouse model.”
The team of scientists, led by Dr. Ji Hyeon Ryu, based their research on prior studies demonstrating that a form of light-based treatment, known as non-invasive low-level light therapy (LLLT), could potentially be used to treat cancer.
By passing into cells light that interacts with specific molecules relevant to disease, LLLT has been shown to influence the growth, survival, and metastasis of multiple cancer types including colon cancer and melanoma.
However, the effect of this form of light therapy on pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest types of cancer in humans, was not yet clear, and this was the avenue that the researchers explored.
This was the first study evaluating the effects of blue LED irradiation on the proliferation of both healthy and cancerous pancreatic cells.
The scientists hypothesized that blue LED irradiation “could inhibit pancreatic cancer cell growth” and pursued their hypothesis by studying its effect on pancreatic cancer cell lines in laboratory flasks and also in a mouse model of the disease.
The researchers found that the blue light reduced the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells but not that of normal pancreatic cells in an intensity‐ and time‐dependent manner. The higher the intensity and longer the duration of light exposure, the poorer that the cancer cells fared.
Blue light irradiation was also discovered to regulate the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells, promoting their destruction by influencing multiple signalling pathways within the cells.
It was found to suppress the expression of pro-survival molecules that otherwise enable cancerous cells to resist apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, and to alter the metabolism of tumor cells in a manner that inhibited their ability to proliferate.
Notably, the AKT/mTOR pathway, which is involved in the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer, was found to be suppressed by the blue light irradiation.
In laboratory mice with artificially-induced pancreatic cancer, irradiation with the light was shown to influence the AKT pathway and reduce the growth of tumors.
However, there were a few drawbacks. The mouse model did not involve metastatic cancer, a frequent feature of the disease in humans, and the mechanism of cancer development did not fully mimic that which occurs in humans.
Additional in vitro experiments and experimental animal models that better reproduce human pancreatic cancer are warranted for characterizing the anti-cancer effects of blue LED exposure in greater depth.
The researchers concluded that blue LED irradiation “suppressed pancreatic cancer cell and tumor growth by regulating AKT/mTOR signaling” and that “blue LEDs could be used as a nonpharmacological treatment for pancreatic cancer.”
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Kim YM, Ko SH, Shin YI, et al. (2020) Light‐emitting diode irradiation induces AKT/mTOR‐mediated apoptosis in human pancreatic cancer cells and xenograft mouse model. Journal of Cellular Physiology, 236(2): 1362-1374.