Posted on 18 June 2024

​A novel dye technology has been developed to aid clinicians in diagnosing prostate cancer, after a new technique has revealed cancer cells ‘glow’ in real time, allowing a more direct and accurate treatment. Cancer Research UK has worked with surgeons at the University of Oxford and a biotechnology company to develop the technique which means fewer healthy cells will die as a result of radiation and chemotherapy, the current ‘scorched earth’ technique of killing cancerous cells. With the new technology, much less invasive treatment will be needed and can be tailored to the patient’s individual needs, and patients will therefore experience fewer side effects than treatments which are non-specific and often target healthy areas of the body.

The fluorescent dye has been touted to give doctors a "second pair of eyes" during prostate cancer surgery and helps surgeons find and remove all of a man's cancer in real-time, a study in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging reported on Monday. In the study, the dye identified areas of cancerous tissue not picked up by the naked eye or whilst the surgery was underway, using CT and MRI technologies to guide the surgical procedure in 23 men who underwent prostate surgery.

Speaking of the glowing results, researcher Dr Freddie Hamdy, Professor of Surgery at the University of Oxford said: "It's the first time we've managed to see such fine details of prostate cancer in real-time during surgery. With this technique, we can strip all the cancer away, including the cells that have spread from the tumour which could give it the chance to come back later." He continued, "It also allows us to preserve as much of the healthy structures around the prostate as we can, to reduce unnecessary life-changing side-effects like incontinence and erectile dysfunction."

The dye works by latching onto proteins called Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen, a common protein tested for in individuals with prostate cancer. Although the current test is specific, it does not precisely show the exact area affected, so surgeons often have to make a best guess of which area to resect or remove. Researchers have found that this protein, which is commonly found on the surface of prostate cancer cells, glows when exposed to a special kind of UV light, allowing surgeons to more easily see the edges of the tumour and find any clusters of cells that have spread into nearby areas.

These innovative techniques, seen more and more in oncology and the treatment of cancer, pave the way to a quicker removal of tumours and reduce the risk of the cancer metastasising to other areas, particularly the lymph nodes in the groin, which would then allow the cancer to spread further and more easily throughout the body. This technique could also therefore reduce the number of adjunct therapies needed, including chemotherapy, which would substantially improve patients’ quality of life during their treatment.

Speaking of the development, Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK said, "Surgery can effectively cure cancers when they are removed at an early stage. But, in those early stages, it's near impossible to tell by eye which cancers have spread locally and which have not. We need better tools to spot cancers which have started to spread further." He continued, "We hope that this new technique continues to show promise in future trials. It is exciting that we could soon have access to surgical tools which could reliably eradicate prostate and other cancers and give people longer, healthier lives free from the disease." 

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