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Probe May Guide Surgeons to Successful Removal of Mesothelioma Cells


MesotheliomaHelp  has reported on numerous attempts by researchers to develop a tool that causes cancer cells to glow allowing surgeons to home in on them during surgery. Now, researchers believe they have developed a probe that will light up cancer cells and give surgeons confidence that they can remove all cancer cells.

Researchers from Michigan Tech focused on beta-galactosidase, a key enzyme with a “long track record in medical science,” according to the researchers. The probe the team developed bonds to the beta-galactosidase leading to a bright glow under fluorescent light.

“Doctors need to pinpoint cancer tissue, but that can be hard,” said Haiying Liu, lead researcher and a chemistry professor at Michigan Technological University. “If we could make beta-galactosidase glow brightly during surgery, it could play a major role in improving outcomes.”

The researchers believe their light-up approach is superior to others for the following reasons:

  • The near-infrared glow can penetrate deeper into the tissue giving surgeons a view of tumors underneath healthy tissue.
  • The glow is a bright white light and not blue or green like others that can be distracting.
  • The fluorescence is “stable and long lasting” making it useful in long cancer surgeries.

Mesothelioma, an unusual form of cancer caused by exposure to airborne asbestos fibers, often has a complex growth pattern making complete surgical removal a very difficult task. Surgeons often have to guess how much tissue to remove, then send samples to the lab for confirmation that they got it all. They also do not want to remove too much healthy tissue. Use of the probe could eliminate guesswork.

“Doctors want to remove all the cancer, but they also don’t want to cut too much,” Liu said. “We want to make their job a little easier.”

Currently, there is no treatment available for mesothelioma that has shown a 100% efficacy rate.  Mesothelioma cancer cells have proven to be resistant to the standard treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.  While not all mesothelioma patients are candidates for surgery, those who are, may see a higher success rate with surgeons able to pinpoint all cancer cells.

Read the full study in the March 8 issue of the journal Analytic Chimica Acta.

Nancy Meredith

About the Author - 

Nancy is a blog and content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience. Nancy has been writing about mesothelioma and cancer for close to eight years.

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