They used a drug – called SeNBD – that kills cells only after it is activated by a visible light.
By combining a tiny bacteria-killing molecule with a food compound the team tricked bacteria into ingesting the drug.
In studies carried out in zebrafish and human cells, the team showed that with this technology, harmful cells ingested the drug without being alerted to its toxic nature.
“This research represents an important advance in the design of new therapies that can be simply activated by light irradiation, which is generally very safe,” said leading author of the study Professor Marc Vendrell.
Further tests are needed to show if the drug is a safe and quick way to treat early-stage cancers.