Doctors at Duke University are testing a new agent that will cause cancer cells present in tumors to fluoresce or glow. This will allow surgeons to more effectively remove cancerous tumors during surgery.
Typically, surgeons rely on MRIs and CT scans to visualize the tumors and to guide them during removal. However, these traditional methods can leave parts of the tumor undetected, which then requires more scans and surgeries to remove the parts left behind.
During the trial, 15 patients were injected with a blue liquid agent called LUM015. None of the patients involved in the trial experienced any adverse effects from the injection. LUM015 was developed by a company called Lumicell.
The findings of the trial were published early in January of 2016 in Science Translational Medicine, which is a medical journal. David Kirsch, a senior author on the paper and a professor at Duke University School of Medicine, said the goal of the agent is to “give surgeons a practical and quick technology that allows them to scan the tumor bed during surgery to look for any residual fluorescence.”
In addition to Duke, there are many different researchers around the world who are researching agents similar to LUM015 to help visualize cancerous cells. Most of the agents being researched are enzyme activated. However, this trial at Duke was the first protease-activated agent to be tested for safety in humans.
Another test was also done on mice, which served as a companion experiment. The tumors in the mice glowed up to five times brighter than normal tissue. Unfortunately, this glow can’t be seen by the human eye without the aid of a device. Lumicell is currently developing a handheld imaging device for this purpose.
Researchers hope that as a result of the further development of this technology, the number of subsequent surgeries will be reduced. Researchers continue to determine the safety of LUM015 and hope it will increase the number of operations where 100 percent of the tumor is removed during the first surgery.