Futuristic imaging technique may improve cancer surgery

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new imaging system that shows up cancerous tissue could improve cancer surgery by allowing surgeons to identify between diseased and healthy tissue more easily.

Scientists in the US have developed the futuristic technique in an attempt to minimise the amount of healthy tissue that is removed as surgeons take away the tumour.

Early trials of the technique have achieved promising results, according to a study presented at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society, and the researchers believe that it could prove particularly useful for breast, prostate and lung cancer surgery, in which it can be difficult to see the edges of tumours.

Project director Dr John Frangioni, from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston and co-director of its Centre for Imaging Technology and Molecular Diagnostics, said: "This technique is really the first time that cancer surgeons can see structures that are otherwise invisible, providing true image-guided surgery.

"If we're able to see cancer, we have a chance of curing it."

The Fluorescence-Assisted Resection and Exploration (Flare) device is a portable system comprising a near-infrared (NIR) imaging system, video monitor and computer.

Chemical dyes which target cancer cells are injected into the patient. NIR light is then shone onto the body part in question and the dyed cancerous cells 'glow' under the light.

An image of the glowing cancer cells is then superimposed over images of the surgical field, allowing surgeons to see the cancer cells.

The technique has already been trialled in mice and pigs and will be tested in people with breast cancer this summer.

Dr Frangioni noted: "The future of the technology now is really in the chemistry. We have to develop agents for specific tumours, nerves or blood vessels we're trying to visualise."