President Barack Obama made this comment about an innovative cancer treatment in his January 2012 State of the Union address. A research team led by Dr. Hisataka Kobayashi, chief scientist of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, developed this new treatment method.
The method Dr. Kobayashi’s research team developed aims to only eradicate cancer cells, without harming other healthy cells in the body, by irradiating the cancer cells with near-infrared rays. The research results were announced in November 2011.
Chief Scientist Hisataka Kobayashi of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
How is it possible to eradicate cancer using near-infrared rays?
In this treatment, chemical substances that emit heat-induced shock waves when irradiated with near-infrared rays are attached to an antibody that only binds to cancer cells, and this antibody is then delivered to cancer cells.
It’s like attaching a small piece of dynamite to cancer cells, then triggering the dynamite using a light called a near-infrared ray to blow out a part of the cell membrane and kill the cancer cells.
This treatment is possible even when the cancer cells aren’t visible or are scattered over several locations in the body or organ. Dr. Kobayashi is now working on a plan to start clinical tests of infrared-ray cancer treatment methods within two years.
Motivation to shift his career
For about eight years, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Dr. Kobayashi had worked as a radiologist at a hospital in Kyoto. He treated many cancer patients there. At the time, however, there weren’t enough ways to effectively treat cancer, unlike nowadays.
“At the time, we were unable to save the lives of many cancer patients using radiation therapy,” recalls Dr. Kobayashi. “This experience made me feel strongly that I had to do something new to treat cancer. To do this, I knew I needed to clarify what it was necessary to do. That’s how I started researching cancer treatments.”
In 1995, he went to the United States to work as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, where the most cutting-edge cancer research in the world is conducted.