Fluorescent dyes could help surgeons better detect cancer

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are attempting to use glowing, fluorescent dye as a way to identify hidden cancer tumors and dangerous cells.

Currently, surgery is the best way to cure cancer. While more advanced treatments are used if the disease spreads, most operations can remove localized tumors. However, such procedures can leave behind harmful cells because there is no way to easily tell which are normal and which are cancerous. Though surgeons can look or feel for defects, that is not a perfect system.

The new dyes aim to fix that by helping surgeons easily detect infected or problematic areas.

“It’s almost like we have bionic vision,” said Sunil Singhal, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, according to ABC News. “We can be sure we’re not taking too much or too little.”

While the dyes are purely experimental for now, there is a lot of progress being made. Two are currently in late-stage studies, and researchers hope to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration within the next five to ten years.

Doctors have long used a dye known as ICG for different purposes. The new research is unique because it employs the substance in a completely new way. They found that when large doses of the dye are administered to a patient the day before surgery it collects in cancer cells and glows under infrared light. As a result, it could be used for all tumor types.

In addition, there is another dye in the works that binds to a protein found in many cancer cells. The dye is still in testing, but it highlighted 56 of 59 lung cancers during early trials. Nine of those were not visible ahead of time.

Roughly 80,000 Americans have lung spot surgery each year. Being able to easily identify harmful areas would allow surgeons to more accurately know what to remove. This process could also be extremely useful for breast cancer patients. Nearly one third of women who have surgery for the disease need a second one. The dye could drastically reduce such errors.

“You can see it down to a few dozen cells or a few hundred cells,” said Jim Olson, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital, according to CBS News. “I’ve seen neurosurgeons come out of the operating room with a big smile on their face because they can see the cancer very clearly.”