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Ending Cancer -- With Lasers

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“My goal is to end cancer. I hope I can.”

From almost anyone but Marty LaFleur, that kind of talk would be fantastic, like finding Bigfoot or Shangri-La.

But Marty is on a path to meet his goal.

True, he’s only 20, but the Clarkson honors student has spent three years in the lab researching cancer — preparing for a career fighting it.

“Chemotherapy and radiation kill lots of cancer cells, but not all of them. And those cells that resist treatment, they start growing again and the cancer comes back.”

It’s these resistant cells that Marty aims to kill. He’s developed a process that uses nanoparticles, the tiny substances thousands of times smaller than a speck of dust. Marty attaches nanoparticles made of gold to a drug that targets tumors. The drug kills all the cancer cells it can, but those that resist the treatment now have a nanoscopic piece of gold in them.

“That’s when the nanoparticle is irradiated with a laser. We expect the gold to heat up and the change in temperature will kill the cancer cell.”

It’s called photothermal therapy and, by using nanoparticles, it decreases the potential for harm that traditional cancer treatments can have on the patient’s healthy cells.

More time in the lab is needed and some hurdles remain, but Marty’s research on the cellular level could lead to a breakthrough.

So how does a 20-year-old have the means to work on something like this?

It helps to have an engineer father and pharmacist mother. Marty says it’s also helpful having a musician sister.

“We’re a thinking family. We’re curious,” he says, “and we value education.”

Marty attended the early college program in The Clarkson School and he applauds the University for letting students get into the lab to conduct research near the beginning – not the end – of their academic careers.                              

He’s set to graduate in spring and has applied to graduate school.

“I want to go into immunology,” he says, sounding awed. “The human immune system is amazing. It’s far more powerful than anything I can create.”

From Marty, that’s high praise.

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Marty Lafleur