Lighting up Cancer Brightens Patient Futures

Ovarian cancer surgery uses new fluorescent technology

September 21, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Not only is ovarian cancer difficult to diagnose, it is also difficult for a surgeon to see to surgically remove. New technology could soon make surgery more effective to improve the outlook for patients.

The technology combines what researchers call a "homing device" and an "imaging agent" to light up ovarian cancer. The first of these "fluorescence-guided" surgeries been performed on a patients as part of a clinical trial to test the new technology.

"New technology lights up tiny clusters of ovarian cancer cells."

Clusters of cancer cells as small as one-tenth of a millimeter are illuminated, which allows surgeons to see tiny tumors that in the past have been missed.

The technology was invented at Purdue University by Philip Low, the Ralph C. Corely Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.

Low explains the technology allows surgeons "to spot a tumor that's 30 times smaller than the smallest they could detect using standard techniques."

How this works is ingenious. A fluorescent imaging agent is attached to a specially engineered form of the vitamin folic acid. The vitamin becomes a "homing agent" that finds and attaches itself to ovarian cancer cells.

Patients are injected with this combination two hours before surgery. Then an advanced camera system lights up the cancer cells on monitor that the surgeon views during the operation.

The net result is that more malignant tissue can be removed, which in turn leads to a better outlook for the patient.

This technique will be further studied in a new trial being planned with the Mayo Clinic

A report of this study was published online September 18, 2011 in Nature Medicine.

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Review Date: 
September 19, 2011
Last Updated:
September 21, 2011