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Glowing tumors could make cancer surgery more successful

A chemical that causes tumors to glow would allow more precise removal of cancerous tissue.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 6, 2016 at 5:04 PM

DURHAM, N.C., Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Surgery to remove tumors from cancer patients includes the intention of removing healthy tissue around the edges to increase the chance it has been completely removed -- the margin of error for leaving cancerous cells behind, however, is far too high for doctors.

Scientists at Duke University injecting patients with a chemical called LUM015 made cancerous tissue glow in a small group of patients, helping doctors see cells they've missed while working to remove a tumor in the operating room.

LUM015, developed by the company Lumicell, is activated by enzymes on tumor cells and can be seen by doctors using a handheld device with a camera that picks up the glow, which is not visible to the naked eye.

"This pathologic technique to determine whether tumor remains in the patient is the best system we have currently, and has been in use for decades, but it's not as accurate as we would like," said Dr. Brian Brigman, chief of orthopedic oncology at Duke's College of Medicine, in a press release. "If this technology is successful in subsequent trials, it would significantly change our treatment of sarcoma."

Researchers in a study testing the chemical, published in Science Translational Medicine, first used the chemical and camera in mice, finding LUM015 accumulated enough in cancerous tissue to glow an average of five times brighter than regular muscle.

The chemical was then tested in 15 human cancer patients undergoing surgery for soft-tissue sarcoma or breast cancer. Cancerous tissue glowed as expected, and the researchers reported no adverse effects from the chemical.

"If we can increase the cases where 100 percent of the tumor is removed, we could prevent subsequent operations and potentially cancer recurrence," Brigman said. "Knowing where there is residual disease can also guide radiation therapy, or even reduce how much radiation a patient will receive."

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