U of A student Weiyang Liu, ’05 BSc, ’10 MSc, recently had his master’s thesis chosen as the best of the year in an annual competition sponsored by the Western Association of Graduate Schools.
Part of the University’s interdisciplinary team developing a two-technology treatment that specifically targets cancerous prostate glands, Liu’s winning master’s thesis was on the use of a light-sensitive drug to treat the disease. Prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer in men over 50, although many never have symptoms, undergo no therapy, and eventually die of other causes. However, currently one in six Canadian men will require prostate cancer treatment with the possible side effects of surgery including incontinence and impotency.
“Our prostate cancer drug is injected into a patient,” says Liu, “but it only begins killing cells when it’s activated or turned on by laser light, which is guided by tiny fibre optic cables that have been inserted into the patient’s prostate gland. This delivers the cancer treatment right to the prostate, unlike chemotherapy, which attacks the whole body.”
The drug component of the treatment is in clinical trials, and the U of A team—John Tulip and Ronald Moore were Liu’s supervising professors—is hopeful the light component will go into clinical trials in 2011. “We were up against large California schools like UCLA, CalTech and UC Berkeley,” says Liu about his winning thesis. “So I’m very proud that we won.”