Scientists Developing Glowing Dye To Identify Cancer Cells In New Study

In a new study from the University of Oxford and California biotech company ImaginAb Inc, experts have found that fluorescent dye can be used to identify and spotlight cancerous tissues and cells otherwise invisible to the naked eye. This technique could reduce the risk of cancer returning. 

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Scientists from the University of Oxford and California biotech company ImaginAb Inc are embarking on a new study utilizing fluorescent dye that “glows” and sticks to cancer cells and tissues that would otherwise be hard to identify. The study is being funded by Cancer Research UK, according to reports from the Guardian

Experts within the study say that this technology can be used to reduce the risk of cancer returning for patients in remission, as well as preventing the major side effects that come with cancer/surgery. 

The fluorescent dye being used causes tiny cancerous tissues and cells to glow so that surgeons are able to remove every last bit of the cancer while preserving healthy tissue. This would not only lower the chances of patients experiencing a relapse in their cancer, but it could lower major side effects that come after surgery. 

“We are giving the surgeon a second pair of eyes to see where the cancer cells are and if they have spread,” said Freddie Hamdy, professor of surgery at the University of Oxford.

“With this technique, we can strip all the cancer away, including the cells that have spread from the tumor, which could give it the chance to come back later.”

For the initial trials, 23 men with prostate cancer were injected with the dye before they went into surgery to remove their prostates. The dye was able to highlight the cancer cells and where it spread throughout the tissues in their body. 

Utilizing their special imaging system, they were able to literally shine a light on the prostate and nearby regions to make the cancer cells glow for easier removal. The details of these initial breakthroughs were published in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. 

“It’s the first time we’ve managed to see such fine details of prostate cancer in real time during surgery,” said Hamdy, who’s also the the lead author of the ProMOTE study. 

“It also allows us to preserve as much of the healthy structures around the prostate as we can, to reduce unnecessary life-changing side-effects like incontinence and erectile dysfunction,” he said. 

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“Prostate surgery is life-changing. We want patients to leave the operating theater knowing that we have done everything possible to eradicate their cancer and give them the best quality of life afterwards. I believe this technique makes that possibility a reality.”

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According to reports, the procedure specifically works by combining the dye with a targeting molecule called IR800-IAB2M. This molecule and the dye both attach themselves to the protein known as Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen (PSMA), which is located on the surface of prostate cancer cells. 

David Butler, 77, a retired sales development manager from Southmoor, Oxfordshire, who is now cancer-free after participating in the trial when his prostate cancer began to spread. 

“I retired early to make the most of life’s pleasures: gardening, playing bowls and walking. Taking part in the ProMOTE study has allowed me to have many more of those pleasures for years to come,” Butler stated

So far this technique has only been trialed for patients with prostate cancer, but experts are hopeful that it can be utilized for the many other types of cancer that people suffer with. 

“Surgery can effectively cure cancers when they are removed at an early stage. But, in those early stages, it’s near impossible to tell by eye which cancers have spread locally and which have not,” said Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK. 

“Further trials are required in larger groups of patients, but the combined marker dye and imaging system could fundamentally transform how we treat cancer in future,” Foulkes said.

“It is exciting that we could soon have access to surgical tools which could reliably eradicate prostate and other cancers and give people longer, healthier lives free from the disease.”