Brain cancer: drink that makes tumours glow could make surgery more effective

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Brain cancer: drink that makes tumours glow could make surgery more effective

Fluorescent marker accumulates in the fastest-growing cells, helping surgeons pinpoint tumours and leave healthy tissue alone

Surgeons have tested the use of a fluorescent marker that can help them remove dangerous brain tumour cells from patients more accurately.

The research was carried out on people who had suspected glioblastoma, the disease that killed British politician Dame Tessa Jowell in May, and the most common form of brain cancer.

Treatment usually involves surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, but it can be challenging for surgeons to identify all the cancer cells while avoiding healthy brain tissue.

Researchers said using the fluorescent marker helped distinguish the most aggressive cancer cells from other brain tissue and they hope this will ultimately improve patient survival.

They used a compound called 5-aminolevulinic acid or 5-ALA, which the patient drinks. The compound glows pink when a light is shone on it.

Previous research shows that 5-ALA accumulates in fast-growing cancer cells so it can act as a fluorescent marker of high-grade cells.

The study was carried out on 99 patients with suspected high-grade gliomas – a kind of tumour –who were treated at Royal Liverpool hospital, King’s college hospital in London and Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge. They were aged between 23 and 77, with an average age of 59.

During their operations, surgeons reported seeing fluorescence in 85 patients and 81 of these were subsequently confirmed by pathologists to have high-grade disease. One was found to have low-grade disease and three could not be assessed.

Read on: Brain cancer: drink that makes tumours glow could make surgery more effective

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