OTTAWA // A Canadian high school student has improved an ineffective experimental cancer therapy with a simple tweak - pairing it with antibiotics - earning accolades from a panel of eminent scientists.
Cancer "photothermal therapy", or PTT, involves injecting a patient with gold nanoparticles. These then accumulate in tumors and, when heated using light, attack the cancer cells.
The idea has shown promise but is not very effective because the cancer cells fight back, producing heat-shock proteins to protect themselves.
The India-born secondary student Arjun Nair, 16, showed how an antibiotic (17-AAG) may overcome the defences deployed by cancer cells and make the treatment more effective.
The discovery earned Arjun the top prize on Tuesday in the 20th Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada, after he spent two years working on his idea at the University of Calgary's Nanoscience Labs in Alberta.
"Proof-of-concepts were developed and tested in order to demonstrate the viability of PTT," Arjun said in a statement. "Moreover, after analysing the literature a mathematical model was developed to evaluate a theoretical synergetic treatment."
Arjun said he began looking into this after his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. "She suffered a lot through therapy, so I was looking at cancer in general and read a lot about treatments."
At the same time, Arjun noticed cancer projects had become staples of science fairs across Canada, and so decided to take on the challenge himself.