Designing photosensitizers for photodynamic therapy: strategies, challenges and promising developments

M.J. Garland, C.M. Cassidy, David Woolfson, Ryan Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Citations (Scopus)


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photodynamic antimicrobial chemotherapy (PACT) are techniques that combine the effects of visible light irradiation with subsequent biochemical events that arise from the presence of a photosensitizing drug (possessing no dark toxicity) to cause destruction of selected cells. Despite its still widespread clinical use, Photofrin (R) has several drawbacks that limit its general clinical use. Consequently, there has been extensive research into the design of improved alternative photosensitizers aimed at overcoming these drawbacks. While there are many review articles on the subject of PDT and PACT, these have focused on the photosensitizers that have been used clinically, with little emphasis placed on how the chemical aspects of the molecule can affect their efficacy as PDT agents. Indeed, many of the PDT/PACT agents used clinically may not even be the most appropriate within a given class. As such, this review aims to provide a better understanding of the factors that have been investigated, while aiming at improving the efficacy of a molecule intended to be used as a photosensitizer. Recent publications, spanning the last 5 years, concerning the design, synthesis and clinical usage of photosensitizers for application in PDT and PACT are reviewed, including 5-aminolevulinic acid, porphyrins, chlorins, bacteriochlorins, texaphyrins, phthalocyanines and porphycenes. It has been shown that there are many important considerations when designing a potential PDT/PACT agent, including the influence of added groups on the lipophilicity of the molecule, the positioning and nature of these added groups within the molecule, the presence of a central metal ion and the number of charges that the molecule possesses. The extensive ongoing research within the field has led to the identification of a number of potential lead molecules for application in PDT/PACT. The development of the second-generation photosensitizers, possessing shorter periods of photosensitization, longer activation wavelengths and greater selectivity for diseased tissue provides hope for attaining the ideal photosensitizer that may help PDT and PACT move from laboratory investigation to clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-691
Number of pages25
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery
  • Pharmacology


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