Glowing Tumors MIT 600x279

A new method of finding and removing ovarian tumors is in the development and testing stage by researchers from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and Massachusetts General Hospital. The problem is that by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed, it’s often at a late stage and the body is filled with many tumors. Each year 200,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, but treatment has been difficult when the disease has spread and the tumors are large enough to be detected with conventional techniques.

The doctors at Mass General have already found they can extend the lifespan of patients with ovarian cancer if they can remove tumors as small as 1 millimeter with surgery, but finding them is difficult. The researchers at MIT have developed a process by which they can inject single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) that bind only to tumors and emit light when “excited” by a laser. With this technology, doctors can use a fluorescent “probe” that excites the light emitting nanotubes and reveals the presence and location of tumors, no matter how small they are.

The team has developed a method of recording video as they move the fluorescent tube for exploratory purposes and another technology that can be used during surgery. Surgeons are used to working with gray-scale images during surgery. Using two monitors, one with the fluorescent view revealing the tumor location and a gray-scale monitor to operate with, was seen as a distraction and, because the surgeon’s head would move and break eye contact with the precise, very tiny locations, be a cause of inaccuracy. The researchers developed a foot switch that adjusts the light being shown, so the surgeon can use one monitor and flip back and forth quickly to be sure of location while performing surgery.

The technology has met with significant success in working with ovarian cancer in mice. The acid test is increased longevity. Even though the surgery with this new technology took longer, the mice survived longer than those who had conventional surgery without the fluorescent view. The testing is going forward and the fluorescent probes need to be submitted for FDA approval. This is an exciting development for the prospect of greater survival rates and longer life spans of ovarian cancer patients.