Surgery is one of the best ways to treat cancer. The disease though may recur and this is often because of tumors that were left behind during the surgery, some of which lurk undetected.

Detecting Hidden Cancers With Fluorescent Dyes

The problem with surgically removing tumors is that the good and bad tissues often seem to be the same. Doctors have no good way of identifying cancerous tissues. Glowing dyes that can reveal hidden cancers during surgery offers solution to this challenge.

Fluorescent dyes can make cancer cells light up, which can make it easier for doctors to remove cancerous cells and give their patients increased odds for survival.

This technology is now being tested and holds potential in transforming how doctors operate cancer patients.


Sunil Singhal, from the University of Pennsylvania, first pondered on the idea of cells that light up a decade ago, after a patient died because the lung cancer has recurred.

He found potentials in the ICG dye, which has long been used for many medical purposes. When administered intravenously a day before the surgery, the dye collects in the cancer cells and glows under near-infrared cameras.

Singhal called it TumorGlow. The technology is now being tested for a range of tumor types including those that affect the lungs and brain. In one study, the dye lit up 56 of 59 lung cancers that were detected by scans before surgery. It also detected nine more that were not visible earlier.

Singhal said that the technique can improve precision and accuracy when removing tumor. TumorGlow could also help with early detection of small tumors and improve odds for successful treatment of cancer patients.

"When we started using the dye, we could start to see smaller nodules than we ever could before. Now, we can alter our incisions based on the location and type of tumor. We can start making incisions directly over the tumor, whereas, before, we would make some generic decisions," Singhal said.

Other Dyes For Detecting Cancer Cells

Blaze Bioscience is also testing Tumor Paint, which is composed of cancer-binding molecule and a dye that can make cancer cells glow. Tumor Paint now goes through early stage trials involving adults with skin, brain and breast cancer, and children with brain tumor.

Avelas Biosciences also works on a dye attached to a molecule that can carry it into tumor cells. Early studies are now conducted on patients with breast cancer.

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Tags: Cancer Tumor Dye