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Cancer Cells Get A Telltale Glow For Surgery

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University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers are moving close to clinical trials of a method of literally lighting up cancer cells so surgeons can make sure to remove every bit of a tumor.

The scientists infused fluorescent dye into cetuximab, a Food and Drug Administration-approved antibody that targets proteins expressed by cancer. The dye glows under infrared light. An infrared camera monitors the surgical site in real time, allowing the surgeon to precisely determine the margins of a cancerous tumor. The technique can detect masses of as few as 400 cells—about the size of the tip of a pen.

Eben Rosenthal, MD, a UAB professor of surgery, explained why the researchers developed the optical imaging system:

Over a hundred years there’s been a lot of advances in medical therapy, but the cancer surgery realm has pretty much stayed the same. You basically cut out the cancer by looking at it, or eyeballing it.

Dr. Rosenthal was quoted in a story by Mike Oliver published last week on al.com, the online version of the Birmingham News and two other Alabama newspapers.

Kurt Zinn, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian at UAB (and professor of radiology and electrical and computer engineering), has been conducting animal toxicity tests on the antibody dye. He expects to finish in February. That should allow human clinical trials to begin later this year. “If we don’t have the first patient injection in four to six months, I’ll be surprised,” Dr. Rosenthal said.

The research has been proceeding on a fast track because the antibody and camera equipment already had FDA approval. The antibody was approved for another UAB cancer research project. “The shortest arc to the clinic was using existing equipment,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “We can get it to patients quicker using the existing technology and FDA-approved items.”

Related seminar: UCSF Radiology Review: COMPREHENSIVE IMAGING

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