Prostate cancer

Glowing cells becoming the cutting-edge of prostate cancer surgery?

Oxford-based researchers are exploring how fluorescent dye can help surgeons remove prostate cancer cells in real-time and with better long-term outcomes.

In a study supported by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the National Institute for Health and Care Research, scientists tested a special injection that enables prostate cancer cells to glow when shined with a special light, ultimately allowing specialists to better target cancerous cells and preserve healthy areas.

The technology is a combination of dye and a marker molecule — known as IR800-IAB2M — that attaches itself to the PSMA protein found on the surface of prostate cancer cells. It is the brainchild of Oxford scientists and ImaginAb Inc., the Californian biotechnology company.

The University of Oxford says that data from a 23-man study published in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging showed the marker dye picked up areas of cancerous tissue that were not discovered with the naked eye or other clinical methods.

“We are giving the surgeon a second pair of eyes to see where the cancer cells are and if they have spread,” explained the study’s lead author, Professor Freddie Hamdy of Oxford University. “It’s the first time we’ve managed to see such fine details of prostate cancer in real-time during surgery.”

Iain Foulkes comment

Further clinical trials already underway to test the technique's efficacy compared to existing surgical methods.

Although the marker dye is still in early-stage development, the University of Oxford highlights that it could become part of routine prostate cancer surgery practice in the future, and be expanded into other cancer types by changing its protein base.

“We need better tools to spot cancers which have started to spread further,” said CRUK’s executive director of research and innovation, Dr Iain Foulkes.

He continued: “The combined marker dye and imaging system that this research has developed could fundamentally transform how we treat prostate cancer in the future.

“We hope that this new technique continues to show promise in future trials. It is exciting that we could soon have access to surgical tools which could reliably eradicate prostate and other cancers and give people longer, healthier lives free from the disease.”

The imaging system that shines the light used to make the cells glow was developed by an engineering team led by Professor Borivoj Vojnovic at the University of Oxford. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with around 52,300 new cases every year.

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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