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Chemotherapy is an integral part of the gold standard for cancer treatment in the U.S., but it’s well-understood that it’s not without side effects—some so significant that some people choose to forego it altogether. The reason that chemotherapy drugs cause systemic side effects is relatively simple: the drugs act systemically, killing the cancer cells, but at the same time killing the healthy cells that our bodies rely upon. But what if we could control exactly where and how chemotherapy drugs are activated in the body, so as to direct them to the specific site of a tumor, and nowhere else?

Professor John S. Ho from the Department of Electrical Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore joins the podcast to explain how and why we can. It’s called photodynamic therapy, and while it’s not without its challenges, it holds promise for the future of cancer treatment. By shining light of a certain wavelength into a tumor in the body, and then administering chemotherapy drugs that have been designed to absorb that same wavelength of light, the drug would become active only in the presence of the light, and therefore only at the site of the tumor.

The principles that underlie this technology, surprisingly enough, are similar to those that underlie other bioelectronic devices, such as pacemakers, pill cameras, and cochlear implants. Aside from explaining exactly how photodynamic therapy works, Dr. Ho discusses a number of interesting topics, including the benefits and difficulties of wireless power transfer to the body, energy harvesting, and what’s ahead in the coming years in bioelectronic device development.

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