Acadia University chemist Sherri McFarland is harnessing the power of light to help destroy cancer cells.
Since 2007 the researcher has been developing drugs and compounds that interact with diseased cells and then destroys them when activated by light.
Her research effort, the development of new “photoactive drugs” as anticancer agents and as antibiotics, was seeded with funding from the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT) and matching funds from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).
Dr. McFarland established the Laboratory for Inorganic Photophysics and Biological Sciences, which has helped to position Acadia as a major player in photonic research within Canada and around the world. Over the past six years, the NSRIT & CFI funding has leveraged over $1M dollars from other sources including NSERC, CIHR, Innovacorp, industry funds, and private investments.
Over 50 students and trainees have been able to access the trailblazing equipment, half of these being undergraduate students that are gaining unique experiences as they train to become our scientists of the future. She has developed strong collaborations with researchers at the University of Houston, University of Kentucky, Temple University, University Jena (Germany), Dalhousie, the IWK, and the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute.
Some of Dr. McFarland’s most promising substances have been licensed to a Toronto-based company and are undergoing clinical testing to treat non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. These compounds outperform current FDA-approved photoactive drugs by orders of magnitude, exploiting unique mechanisms that are the subject of four patent applications.
Dr. McFarland and her partners are now turning their attention to the development of new treatment options for one of the most lethal solid cancer tumours, melanoma. Melanoma is the second most common cancer in 15–34 year-olds and the most common cancer killer of young women.
The innovative initiative is enabling Nova Scotia to become a hub for light-based medicine. The effort is proof that with great equipment and ongoing support, researchers at some of Nova Scotia’s smallest universities can change the world.