‘Trojan Horse’ Drug That Kills Cancer Without Damaging Nearby Tissue Successfully Tested

by : Julia Banim on : 01 Jun 2021 16:13
'Trojan Horse' Drug That Kills Cancer Without Damaging Nearby Tissue Successfully TestedPA

Successful testing has been carried out using a ‘Trojan horse’ drug that can reportedly kill malignant cancer cells and bacteria without damaging nearby tissue.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have discovered that by combining the bacteria-killing molecule named SeNBD with a chemical food compound, cells and bacteria can actually be ‘tricked’ into ingesting the drug.


As SeNBD is smaller than other existing light-sensitive treatments, it is able to pass through a cell’s defences with greater ease than larger molecules.

Cancer cells (Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0))Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cells need to consume chemical components of food, known as metabolites, to survive, including energy-giving sugars and amino acids.

Bacterial and cancer cells are known to be greedy, usually consuming higher concentrations and different sorts of metabolites than healthy cells would. This means pairing SeNBD with a metabolite is ideal when targeting harmful cells.


However, up until now, the majority of light-activated drugs were bigger than metabolites, meaning bacteria and cancer cells did not recognize them as being normal food, and wouldn’t ingest them.

Dr Sam Benson, post-doctoral researcher at University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Inflammation, said in a press release:

With SeNBD, we can combine a light activated drug with the food that cancerous and bacterial cells normally eat.

This means we can deliver our ‘Trojan horse’ directly through the front door of the cell rather than trying to find a way to batter through the cells defences.

cancer research (PixaHive)PixaHive

On top of its small size, SeNBD is also a photosensitiser, meaning that it can only destroy cells after being activated by visible light.

Switching on SeNBD using light means a surgeon could potentially decide the exact places where they need the drug to be active. This would therefore prevent healthy tissue from being attacked, and would also stop the kind of side effects triggered by other drugs.

Lead researcher, Professor Marc Vendrell, Chair of Translational Chemistry and Biomedical Imaging at the University of Edinburgh, said:

This research represents an important advance in the design of new therapies that can be simply activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe.

SeNBD is one of the smallest photosensitizers ever made and its use as a ‘Trojan horse’ opens many new opportunities in interventional medicine for killing harmful cells without affecting surrounding healthy tissue.


The experimental study was carried out on zebrafish and human cells, and has been peer-reviewed, though researchers say more testing is needed to determine the treatment’s safety and efficiency at targeting cancer cells.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Macmillan’s Cancer Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, 8am–8pm seven days a week.

Most Read StoriesMost Read


Billie Eilish Says She’s ‘Embarrassed’ After Anti-Asian Videos Surface

Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Science, Bacteria, Cancer, Now


The University of Edinburgh and 1 other
  1. The University of Edinburgh

    Light-sensitive drug acts as Trojan horse to kill drug-resistant bacteria

  2. Nature

    Photoactivatable metabolic warheads enable precise and safe ablation of target cells in vivo