Technique 'Lights Up' Cancer Cells in Early Trial
Technology may help surgeons identify and remove more malignant cells
By Alan Mozes
THURSDAY, Jan. 7, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A new imaging technique that "lights up" cancer cells may eventually help surgeons remove all of a cancer the first time, according to a preliminary study.
"When a patient has cancer, the surgeon tries to find the tumor and cut it out," explained study senior author Dr. David Kirsch, a professor in the department of pharmacology and cancer biology, and the department of radiation oncology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "However, there can sometimes be microscopic residual cancer left behind that the surgeon can't see.
"So this imaging technique," he added, "is meant to help the surgeon see the cancer during the operation, to avoid the patient having to go in for a second operation."
The early trial, involving both mice and a small number of human patients, used a preoperative injection of a blue liquid called LUM015 directly into the region where the cancer is located. The liquid then spreads into tumor tissue instead of healthy tissue. According to the study authors, the liquid seeks out a particular enzyme called protease that is believed to be critical to cancer growth, and is found in large quantities in malignant cells.
Once the tumor tissue is removed during surgery, a specially designed hand-held imaging probe is placed at the surgical site. Cancer cells left behind glow roughly five times brighter than healthy tissue, the researchers said. Surgeons can then remove the malignant cells on the spot, theoretically reducing the need for a follow-up operation.
Dr. Stephen Freedland, director of the Center for Integrated Research on Cancer and Lifestyle at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, noted that one of the biggest challenges facing surgeons is determining where is the cancer.
"So better imaging is always needed. Because with a big, massive tumor it's easy to see the cancer. But when it's just a few cells or a small tumor, it's very hard to see and properly target therapy," said Freedland, who was not involved with the study.