Targeted dendrimeric prodrugs for 5-Aminolaevulinic acid photodynamic therapy

  • Kunal Mahesh Tewari

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an emerging therapy for the treatment of cancer and various other human disorders. 5-Aminolaevulinic acid (ALA) is a simple natural product that is of great interest for PDT because it can be converted within cells via the haem biosynthetic pathway to the photosensitiser, protoporphyrin IX (PpIX). ALA-PDT has become a first line clinical approach for the treatment of cancerous and precancerous skin lesions (e.g Bowen’s disease, basal skin carcinomas, and actinic keratosis) that would otherwise require significant conventional surgery. However, ALA being a zwitterion suffers from poor lipid solubility and at the same time has stability issues at physiological or alkaline pH. The work herein describes some novel strategies to enhance the delivery of ALA to specific cell types using targeted ALA dendrimeric prodrugs. Specifically, it describes the synthesis of molecules consisting of branched units with 3 or more copies of ALA attached to a central core structure (e.g. gallic acid) using copper-catalysed azide-alkyne click chemistry (CuAAC). Selective delivery of the dendrimeric ALA cargo was achieved by attachment of a homing peptide to an independently addressable functional group on the prodrug core. As proof of concept of this approach, systems were prepared containing a peptide that allows selective targeting of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) which is overexpressed in a variety of tumours. Targeted ALA delivery and PpIX production was studied with these prodrugs in EGFR-expressing breast adenocarcinoma cells (MDA-MB-231 cells) and a peptide-targeted derivative with 9 ALA units was found to have enhanced PDT efficacy compared to an equimolar dose of ALA. Other targeting units that have been attached to these dendrimeric ALA prodrugs include biomolecules such as vitamin E, thymidine (a nucleoside) and a glucose derivative. Additionally, strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloadditions (SPAAC) of the same EGFR-targeting peptide with some classical photosensitisers were also investigated and biological studies in EGFR-overexpressing cell lines were carried out. Lastly, a group of cell penetrating peptide-ALA conjugates have been synthesised via CuAAC as a novel approach for targeted ALA delivery.
Date of Award23 Nov 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIan Eggleston (Supervisor) & Charareh Pourzand (Supervisor)


  • 5-ALA
  • photodynamic therapy
  • dendrimer
  • peptide chemistry
  • CuAAC

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