Fluorescent marker can enhance the rate of survival from one of the deadliest forms of brain tumors.
In a trial presented at the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference, scientists used a ‘fluorescent’ chemical that could highlight cancerous cells and help them identify and remove the most aggressive type of disease.
The research involved 99 people who had suspected ‘glioma’. It is one of the most common forms of brain cancer that killed Dame Tessa Jowell – Labour Cabinet Minister and over 2,200 cases are diagnosed each year in England.
Treatment for glioma usually involves surgical procedures to remove as much of the tumor as possible. However, it is difficult to detect all the cancer cells while ensuring that the healthy brain tissues are not damaged.
According to the researchers, the fluorescent market could help surgeons to distinguish between the tumor cells and other healthy brain cell which will ultimately improve the chances of survival of the patients.
In order to help surgeons detect high-grade cancer cells and remove them accurately, the scientists employed a compound known as 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) that glows pink under a light.
Previous studies have showed that the compound accumulates in fast-growing cancer cells, implying it can be used as fluorescent marker of high-grade cells. Patients were given a drink containing 5-ALA prior to surgical process and with the help of operating microscopes, the surgeons could identify fluorescent tissue while removing cancer cells from the patient’s tumor. Analysis of the removed tissues helped scientists to confirm the accuracy of the surgeon’s work.
In the latest study, the 99 patients received 5-ALA to assess for signs of fluorescence. During the operations, the surgeons noticed fluorescence in 85 patients in which 81 were confirmed to have high-grade disease, one was detected with low-grade cancer cells and three could not be accessed. In the remaining 14 patients where the surgeons did not notice any fluorescence, pathology evaluated only seven tumors but low-grade disease was confirmed in all the cases.
According to Colin Watts from the University of Birmingham who led the study, it is necessary for surgeons to be able to differentiate the tumor tissue and other brain tissue, particularly when the tumor comprise of high-grade cancer cells growing at fast rate. The technique is of benefit to the surgeons as it can highlight the high-grade disease within a tumor more quickly during neurosurgery, he added.