Scientists from the University of Oxford discovered a protein that could help enhance mapping of brain tumor, particularly its edges, via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Such discovery may help pave the way for better diagnostic process and treatments for patients affected by brain tumor.

Innovations in MRI scans that target molecular-level data have various advantages over conventional techniques. One of the benefits of this type of MRI is the possibility of determining molecular mechanisms, including that of the protein VCAM-1 (vascular cell adhesion molecule), which may potentially be active along brain tumor margins.

VCAM-1 is generated during inflammation, which results from the brain tumor. Being able to detect this particular inflammatory indicator could give experts a detailed insight about the entire cancer, including where the tumor may possibly spread.

One of the signs of brain tumor is blood vessel leak; however, leaks that occur at the edges of the tumor are usually intact and for this, clinical MRI methods become an unsuccessful diagnostic modality for revealing the entire picture.

The goal of the current study is to identify if MRI that targets VCAM-1 could help enhance dimensional delineation of tumor edges and provide more accurate evaluation of brain tumor activity.

To achieve this aim, the researchers formulated a special dye that is able to detect and adhere to VCAM-1 found in the brain's blood vessels. VCAM-1 is found within the vessels, thus giving a reachable target from the bloodstream.

"If we can't map the edge of the tumour, surgery and radiotherapy often fail to remove aggressive tumour cells - and the brain tumour can grow back," said Nicola Sibson, one of the authors of the study. She added that their work demonstrated that enhancing brain tumor imaging is possible thus helping surgeons and radiotherapists come up with more efficient treatments.

"The holy grail would be to be able to completely remove brain tumours with the help of this new imaging technique - reducing recurrence of the disease and saving more lives," commented Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

The study was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference by Dr. Sebastien Serres, one of the study authors, on Monday Nov. 2.

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