When it comes to removing tumors, surgeons have always had to deal with a harsh reality: Cutting out all cancer cells is nearly impossible.
They’re just too well hidden. Even the most savvy, eagle-eyed surgeon can’t spot every tiny one. Especially considering that some tumors measure a mere three millimeters in diameter.
So that’s why researchers developed a new way to trick these tumors into becoming much easier to find.
And they’ve done it by feeding them “glow-in-the-dark” vitamins.
Here’s how it works…
Gaining An Edge Over Malicious Cancer Cells
It started with an astonishing discovery by Purdue University Professor of Biochemistry, Philip Low.
He realized that in order for tumors to wreak havoc in our bodies, they need folic acid – a form of vitamin B that helps cancer cells grow.
So researchers decided to infuse the folic acid with a fluorescent marker. Then, two hours before surgery, they injected it into the patient and watched the cancer cells absorb the acid and light up like glow-in-the-dark particles.
Granted, this isn’t the first time researchers have been able to illuminate cancer cells. Three researchers won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering the green florescent protein (GFP) in 2008. And in 2009, doctors were able to use it to improve survival rates in mice.
But according to Low, his method can zero in on tumors that are “30 times smaller than the smallest they could detect using standard techniques.”
In fact, the glowing dye can help doctors spot cells as small as one-tenth of a millimeter. And you wouldn’t believe how well it’s working so far.
Try Playing Hide and Seek When You Glow in the Dark
Researchers tested this technique at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. They decided to focus on ovarian cancer in particular. Mainly because ovarian cancer cells are strong folic acid absorbers and are notoriously difficult to see.
During the trials, the fluorescent acid injection allowed doctors to spot an average of 34 tumors throughout 10 operations – a 385% improvement over the seven tumors found using traditional techniques!
As Professor Gooitzen van Dam says, “This technology will revolutionize surgical vision. I foresee it becoming a new standard in cancer surgery in a very short time.”
It’s hard to disagree. Especially considering that about 40% of cancers (including kidney, lung, colon and breast cancers) can be tracked down with this technique.
Bottom line: This technology helps doctors tell the difference between malicious cells and healthy tissue, minimizing the damage to surrounding organs.
So there’s no question that it will prove to be a strong ally to other treatments like chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Since you can bet that a few biotechs are already tuned in, we’ll keep you posted on potential licensing agreements that come to our attention.