Researchers have developed a way to improve the accuracy of ovarian cancer surgery, called debulking. Using a novel fluorescence imaging system, they were able to find and remove tumors as small as 0.3 millimeters — smaller than a poppy seed — during surgery in mice. The system allows for real-time information about the size, depth, and distribution of tumors.
The system can monitor patients at risk for tumor recurrence, and eventually for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer, which is easier to treat if it is caught earlier.
The researchers adapted NIR imaging to help surgeons locate tumors during ovarian cancer surgery, by providing continuous, real-time imaging of the abdomen, with tumors highlighted by fluorescence.
To make the tumors visible, the researchers designed chemical probes using single-walled carbon nanotubes that emit fluorescent light when illuminated by a laser. They coated these nanotubes with a peptide that binds to SPARC, a protein that is overexpressed by highly invasive ovarian cancer cells. This probe binds to the tumors and makes them fluoresce at NIR wavelengths, allowing surgeons to more easily find them with fluorescence imaging.
This novel fluorescence imaging system has potential uses in the intraoperative setting for the optical detection of residual malignant tissue at the time of surgical staging, and/or cytoreductive surgery in ovarian cancer patients.