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Global premiere of new operating technique for ovarian cancer

19 September 2011

A new operating technique involving a tumour-specific fluorescent dye and a hypersensitive camera system has been used for the first time in the world by the University Medical Center Groningen to treat women with ovarian cancer. This type of cancer is often only discovered at a very late stage and as a result has a very poor prognosis. The new operating technique makes the tumour tissue light up. For the first time ever it has been proven that cancerous tissue can indeed be detected using a tumour-specific dye. According to UMCG surgeon Dr Go van Dam, the use of tumour-specific fluorescent dyes is an entirely new approach to cancer treatment, which could lead to better tumour detection and excision when dealing with ovarian cancer and breast cancer, and other types as well. The findings are being published today in leading journal Nature Medicine.

Van Dam collaborated with Purdue University (USA) on developing a cancer-specific fluorescent dye for this proof-of-concept study. In 85-95% of cases of ovarian cancer, over-expression of the folate receptor α (FR-α) is involved. By having the fluorescent dye bind to FR-α, the tumour tissue can be located. It is then possible to see during the operation whether the cancer has metastasized and which tissue needs to be removed. The fluorescent dye is administered shortly before the operation and remains effective for 2 to 8 hours afterwards, making the detection of tumours smaller than a quarter of a millimetre in diameter possible. Detection is done using a special camera, developed at the Technical University Munich. The project is therefore a good example of successful international cooperation between various disciplines, involving chemists, technicians, pharmacologists, gynaecologists, surgeons and others.

Possible advantages

The primary advantage of this operating technique is that a large abdominal area can be surveyed for tumours. Because the location of tumour tissue can be determined while operating with a greater degree of certainty than with current imaging techniques, it may be possible to operate more effectively. Any supplementary treatment after the operation can be more focused and thus perhaps yield better results. The safety of using fluorescent dyes in operations was investigated by Dr Lucy Crane of the UMCG, in research involving 350 patients [link press release]. Now that the first trials have proven successful, further research involving larger groups of ovarian cancer patients is necessary to study the effectiveness with regard to survival rates. Cooperation with the Mayo Clinic (USA) to investigate this has just begun.

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.56 a.m.
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