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Researchers in Germany have developed a technique that makes ovarian cancer cells glow in vivo—helping surgeons surgically remove tumors with greater precision. The technique consists of injecting ovarian cancer patients with folate (vitamin B9) fused with a fluorescent molecule. Because 90 to 95 percent of ovarian cancers express high levels of the folate receptor, they take up the fluorescent molecule and glow white. Surgeons trying out the novel technique used specialized optical equipment to visually distinguish cancerous cells from healthy cells and were able to remove tumors as small as one millimeter in size. The more cancerous tissue that is removed surgically, the better the chances are that subsequent chemotherapy will kill off the remaining cancer cells.
"Until now we could only rely on the human eye to find carcinogenic tissue, or non-specific dyes that would color the vascular tissue as well as particular cancer cells,” Vasilis Ntziachristos, who led the study, told Nature News. “Now we are going after precise molecular signals and not simply physiology." The researchers described the new technique in Nature Medicine.