Scientists have said a new chemical could help doctors identify and eradicate fast growing tumors in the body in a safe manner as they can distinguish between cancer cells and healthy tissue. When patients under suspicion of having glioma or brain tumor are given a drink containing 5-ALA it causes the cancer cells to glow with a pinkish hue so surgeons can easily distinguish them from healthy brain tissue. The treatment for this common type of brain cancer is pretty dicey as patient prognosis is often poor as surgeons find it difficult to distinguish between good and bad tissues.
For this trail around 99 patients who were suspected to have high grade gliomas were given 5 ALA before surgery as research showed that they accumulate around fast-growing cancer cells since they lack an enzyme which is needed to break down the chemical. Surgeons then used microscopic probes to look for fluorescent tissue for removing tumors from the patients’ brains. During these operations surgeons reported that they witnessed fluorescence in 85 patients and pathologists confirmed that 81 of them had high grade gliomas whereas the others had low grade or could not be accessed.
In the remaining 14 patients where doctors could not view any fluorescence markers seven patients were found to have low grade gliomas whereas the other seven could not be assessed. Associate professor of brain tumor research at Bristol University Dr Kathreena Kurian stated that there is an urgent need to have essential details when the patient is on the table and surgery is being performed as it will guide them to find the worst sections and remove them. Next steps could include testing the 5-ALA in children with brain tumors while research has to be continued to find markers for detecting low-grade glioma cells to help early eradication. Dr. Paul Brennan from Cancer Research UK stated that this technique could help doctors achieve a delicate balance between removing tumor and preserving surrounding healthy tissue.