Photopharmacology, a New Generation of Medications

Photopharmacology is a new generation of medications that has existed for at least a decade. Learn more about it in today's article.
Photopharmacology, a New Generation of Medications

Last update: 05 October, 2021

Photopharmacology is a new generation of medications and is one of the most promising areas of pharmaceutical chemistry for the future. Generally speaking, it’s a new generation of medications that are activated by light. So, they operate only on the organs and tissues that need light and only when they’re needed.

In addition, photopharmacology is able to minimize side effects. Science is very close to circulating those photosensitive medications that would make high precise treatments a reality.

Everything indicates that these medications would be available for serious diseases, like cancer, diabetes, central nervous system diseases, and a long list that includes chronic pain and blindness. Therefore, photopharmacology is certainly a revolutionary alternative. 

What is photopharmacology?

A scientist analyzing bacteria under a microscope.

As we mentioned, it’s a system that allows photosensitive medications to be administered. That means they’re only activated and take effect when they’re combined with light. These characteristics make them have a high level of precision and operate only at certain times and only in the area that requires it. This method is capable of affecting only one cell. 

Currently, the drugs that we ingest act indiscriminately in the body. A good example of this is first-generation antihistamines. If a person has an allergy and takes one of these drugs, the symptoms go away. However, it’s inevitable that they’ll develop drowsiness, as there are histamine receptors in the brain.

Although science has developed a lot in the level of precision of drugs, it still isn’t possible to eliminate their side effects. With photopharmacology, this doesn’t happen because of the selectivity of the place of action. This means that it only acts where it should act. 

Implantable microsystems

Implantable micro-systems are one of the most interesting alternatives that scientists have proposed to lead and manage photosensitive drugs in the body. They’re tiny devices that doctors would put in the body and that would regulate the drug. They would put them where they’re needed, when they’re needed. 

Bluetooth would control the implantable microsystems. This would make it possible for them to go where they need to go, regulate the amount of light they must deliver to activate the medication, and control the exposure time and volume of the medication.

So, doctors could adjust the doses over time and even in real-time. So, they could carry out a much more precise treatment and avoid side effects. This is essential, especially when the medications are aggressive.

Scientists in a lab.

Cancer and heart applications

One of the areas where an important application of photopharmacology is likely to take place is in cardiac problems. If you have an arrhythmia, for example, one of these drugs would be able to reduce the heart rate. Also, it could target just the affected area, instead of affecting the whole heart.

Another of the most important applications of the new generation of medications is in the treatment of cancer. In addition, this technology allows a controlled release of the medication specifically in the area where you have a tumor. In fact, there’s a possibility that it will only attack malignant cells, so that healthy cells don’t have to suffer any damage.

This new field of pharmacology would make it possible to overcome the lack of selectivity of drugs. The result would be treatment that is much more precise and free of collateral damage. In the case of cancer, in particular, this would mark a new era.


Nowadays, scientists are studying other possible applications of this new generation of medications for health problems as serious as blindness, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and various types of infections. Doctors could treat virtually any disease with photopharmacology. 

When it comes to visual disturbances, Michael Telias, from the University of California at Berkeley, pointed out that blindness in animals has already been reversed with an application of this method. He indicated that they implanted photosensitive molecules in the retina in some of them and this allowed them to regain their vision. 

Scientists also believe that in the not too distant future they’ll have developed bandages with photosensitive medication to treat cancer. In addition, experts agree that this new pharmacology has broad horizons to cover.  

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