Scientists have developed a chemical agent that makes cancer cells shine after about one minute, reducing the possibility of tumors being overlooked in surgical and endoscopic operations.
Since the method can highlight very small tumors down to about 1 millimeter in size, it is expected to help reduce the chances of the cancer recurring.
The chemical agent was developed by a team of researchers led by Yasuteru Urano, a professor of chemical biology at the University of Tokyo, and Hisataka Kobayashi, a chief scientist at the National Cancer Institute of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The chemical agent turns into a fluorescent molecule when it reacts with an enzyme lying on the surfaces of lung, liver, breast and other types of cancer cells, they said. The molecules emit green light when they are ingested into cancer cells and accumulate there.
When the chemical was sprayed on the open abdomens of mice where human cancer cells had been implanted, they shone about 20 times more brightly than normal cells, a contrast easily recognizable by the human eye, the scientists said.
Positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are widely used to detect cancer, but it remains difficult to identify small tumors less than 1 centimeter in size.
The research group is currently tying up with the University of Tokyo Hospital and other bodies to verify the effects of the chemical using cancer cells taken from patients' bodies.
"You only need a fluorescence detector that costs in the hundreds of thousands of yen to see the light, so the method has the potential to be used by many medical institutions," Urano said.
The research results were published in the Nov. 23 issue of Science Translational Medicine, a U.S. medical journal.
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