Glowing Fluorescent Chemical Could Help Neurosurgeons Remove Brain Tumors

Scientists from the United Kingdom found a way that might revolutionize how neurosurgeons remove cancer tumors from the brain.

In a study presented at the 2018 National Cancer Research Institute conference in Glasgow, scientists proposed the use of fluorescent chemicals that can highlight the cancer tumors that should be removed from the brain. This, they claim, can improve patient survival.

Brain Tumors That Glow Pink

The chemical is still in trial, but it has already been used in patients who have suspected glioma — the most common form of brain cancer. When taken, the chemical makes the cancer tumor glow pink, setting it apart from other healthy brain tissues and making the process of removal easier for surgeons.

The researchers used 5-aminolevulinic acid or 5-ALA, which accumulates in fast-growing cancer cells and glows pink when a light is shone on it. This cuts the time needed to identify treatment options for patients diagnosed with glioma.

“Gliomas are difficult to treat with survival times often measured in months rather than years. Many patients are treated with surgery and the aim is to safely remove as much of the cancer as possible,” explained Kathreena Kurian, an associate professor at the University of Bristol. “Once a tumor is removed, it is passed on to a pathologist who examines the cells under a microscope to see if they are ‘high-grade’, fast-growing cells, or ‘low-grade’ slower growing cells.”

Testing 5-ALA In Brain Cancer Patients

The chemical proved to be helpful when administered to patients who were scheduled to undergo surgery. Doctors reported seeing fluorescence in 85 out of the 99 patients who were administered 5-ALA marker before surgery. Pathologists further confirmed that 81 of the patients have high-grade glioma, three could not be assessed, and one was found to have low-grade glioma.

Doctors did not see fluorescence in brain tissues of the remaining 14 patients who were also made to take 5-ALA markers before surgery. However, all seven tumors evaluated by a pathologist were found to be low-grade glioma.

The study shows that the chemical can aid in the identification of high-grade tumors in patients. Researchers hope to test 5-ALA in younger patients diagnosed with brain tumors. The team also hopes to test the new technique to identify the tumor tissue from the scar tissue in patients whose brain cancers have recurred.

The researchers warned, however, that the chemical was used in patients who were suspected to have high-grade gliomas. A different marker might be needed to detect low-grade tumors.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has already approved the use of 5-ALA in patients before a brain tumor surgery.

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