Glowing tumors could help surgeons cut out cancer

January 21, 2016, Cell Press
Current and future clinical applications for optical chemical probes. Top: future application of optical contrast agents includes intravenous administration for pre operative diagnostics and planning. Middle: current use of optical contrast agents for in vivo surgical guidance. Bottom: topical probe labeling can be used for ex vivo surgical guidance. Red circles denote optical probe accumulation in tissue. Credit: Garland et al./Cell Chemical Biology 2015

A breast cancer patient is wheeled into the operating room. She is connected to an IV that sends dye molecules into her blood that travel to her tumors. The surgeon inserts a small camera into the patient's chest and her breast tissue appears on a nearby monitor. The cancer cells are glowing a bright green. Such optical probes, which are meant to improve tumor removal, are already in phase I and phase II clinical trials in humans and could be a common procedure in the next 5-10 years. A review of their progress is published January 21 in the premier issue of Cell Chemical Biology, previously known as Chemistry & Biology.

Fluorescence detection is already in use during surgery. Surgeons can use instruments to detect dyes in the blood that make the blood glow. This is meant to help surgical teams find blood vessels or detect successful perfusion of tissues during transplant. In addition to the non-targeted dye to detect blood flow, there has been a revolution in the development of chemical dyes that can bind to specific over the past two decades. This has led to quite a variety in how such reporters bind, the cell types they bind to, and the light the reporters emit.

"It's a field that's up and coming really fast right now," says biochemist Matthew Bogyo, senior author on the review. "Most people have no idea this stuff can be done, its sounds like science fiction, but we're less than a decade away from this becoming standard practice."

Molecular imaging is a major focus of Bogyo's lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Since 2003, he and his team have been working on chemical agents that can target enzymes (proteases) that are specifically secreted by cancer cells. The light that these optical probes emit can then be picked up by cameras that can see light that penetrates through skin and tissues. In 2008, Bogyo co-founded a company, Akrotome Imaging, to help translate some of his lab's discoveries into the clinic.

From Bogyo's perspective, some of the barriers to moving this early stage research along faster are the costs to funding larger phase II and III , as well as questions around what the regulatory path will be like. Another unknown is whether these fluorescent dyes will work for all types of tumors.

"Ideally, we'd like a silver bullet that can light up any lesions that you want to remove," Bogyo says. "The proteases my lab works on tend to be involved in any kind of inflammatory process, but other agents are more specific—say, looking at markers only upregulated in prostate cancer."

However they work, having precise for cancer working in the is predicted to help in two ways: by cutting the cost of having to do repeat surgeries because more surgeries will be successful the first time, and most importantly, by helping improve patient outcomes.

Explore further: Fluorescent dyes 'light up' brain cancer cells

More information: Cell Chemical Biology, Garland et al.: "A Bright Future for Precision Medicine: Advances in Fluorescent Chemical Probe Design and Their Clinical Application" dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chembiol.2015.12.003

Related Stories

Fluorescent dyes 'light up' brain cancer cells

January 30, 2015
Two new fluorescent dyes attracted to cancer cells may help neurosurgeons more accurately localize and completely resect brain tumors, suggests a study in the February issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress ...

Technology that helps surgeons see cancer tissue being tested

October 23, 2013
OnTarget Laboratories LLC has teamed with partners in academia to test a novel optical imaging technology developed at Purdue University that could help surgeons see cancer tissue during surgery.

On Target Laboratories begins Phase 2 clinical trials for its cancer imaging agent

December 10, 2014
Officials at On Target Laboratories LLC, whose fluorescent imaging technology could help surgeons remove more cancerous tissue than previously possible, have announced that patients are being enrolled in a Phase 2 clinical ...

Early trial shows injectable agent illuminates cancer during surgery

January 6, 2016
Doctors at the Duke University School of Medicine have tested a new injectable agent that causes cancer cells in a tumor to fluoresce, potentially increasing a surgeon's ability to locate and remove all of a cancerous tumor ...

New technology could 'light up' cancer cells and improve surgical outcomes

November 20, 2014
On Target Laboratories LLC and Purdue University are clinically investigating optical imaging technology that could "light up" cancer cells and help surgeons remove more cancerous tissue than previously possible during surgical ...

Recommended for you

From the ashes of a failed pain drug, a new therapeutic path emerges

November 16, 2018
In 2013, renowned Boston Children's Hospital pain researcher Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, Ph.D., and chemist Kai Johnsson, Ph.D., his fellow co-founder at Quartet Medicine, believed they held the key to non-narcotic pain relief. ...

Repurposing FDA-approved drugs can help fight back breast cancer

November 16, 2018
Screening Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved compounds for their ability to stop cancer growth in the lab led to the finding that the drug flunarizine can slow down the growth of triple-negative breast cancer in ...

Traditional chemotherapy superior to new alternative for oropharyngeal cancers

November 16, 2018
A drug increasingly used in combination with radiotherapy to treat a type of cancer that forms in the tonsils or the base of the tongue is inferior to a previously favored option, according to a large, clinical trial led ...

New 'SLICE' tool can massively expand immune system's cancer-fighting repertoire

November 15, 2018
Immunotherapy can cure some cancers that until fairly recently were considered fatal. In addition to developing drugs that boost the immune system's cancer-fighting abilities, scientists are becoming expert at manipulating ...

Anti-malaria drugs have shown promise in treating cancer, and now researchers know why

November 15, 2018
Anti-malaria drugs known as chloroquines have been repurposed to treat cancer for decades, but until now no one knew exactly what the chloroquines were targeting when they attack a tumor. Now, researchers from the Abramson ...

Standard chemotherapy treatment for HPV-positive throat cancer remains the most effective, study finds

November 15, 2018
A new study funded by Cancer Research UK and led by the University of Birmingham has found that the standard chemotherapy used to treat a specific type of throat cancer remains the most effective.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.