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A new study has fluorescent probes light up when they spot pancreatic cancer

cancer seeking fluorescence
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Scientists have developed a new method for helping surgeons recognize and remove even the smallest cancerous tumors — by quite literally lighting the way with tiny fluorescent particles.

As described in a new study published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Omega, the technique involves loading microscopic expansile nanoprobes with the fluorescent particles. When cancerous cells are detected, these nanoprobes release their contents, resulting in the problematic areas lighting up when viewed at a certain wavelength.

“The probe’s relatively rapid visualization of cancerous tissue renders it potentially compatible with operating room workflow for assessing tumor margin status via frozen section analysis,” Robert Strongin, professor of organic chemistry at Portland State University, told Digital Trends, describing the method as “relatively user-friendly.”

In the study, the fluorescent probes were used to detect pancreatic cancer, one of the nastier cancers around, in which survival rates are frequently less than a year. Some experts suggest that pancreatic cancer is set to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related death over the next 15 years.

It is particularly relevant to this work because sufferers of pancreatic cancer often require surgery to remove the tissue since neither chemotherapy or radiotherapy prove particularly effective against it. Unfortunately, surgery to remove cancerous tissues can be inaccurate, with the result being that only a section of the cancerous material is successfully removed from patients.

“The current probe is quite selective for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC),” Strongin continued. “However, the probe design derives from traditional principles of drug design. The library of probes we have synthesized is thus affording us knowledge of structure-activity relationships via biodistribution data. This is enhancing our understanding of what is required for rationally addressing other disease targets using simple organic fluorophores.”

So far, the fluorescent probes have only been tested on mice, although human clinical trials could take place in the near future.

“We are initially planning to have the dyes tested in real time on frozen tissue sections analyzed during tumor resection in the operating room,” Strongin said. “A longer term goal is to aid in the understanding of the high recurrence rate of PDAC after surgery.”

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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