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Cancer breakthrough: New technique spares healthy tissue in investigation

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (

A new technique, using fluorescent molecules reveals just how far cancer has spread in the lymph nodes without damaging healthy tissue has been developed by scientists. The method allows surgeons to identify which lymph nodes are cancerous in order to protect healthy tissue. The lymph nodes play a vital function in helping the body to recognize and fight germs.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "In the future, surgeons will be better able to detect and stage cancer that has spread to the patient's lymph nodes using these molecules," Study leader Dr. Quyen Nguyen, from the University of California, San Diego, says.
Lymph nodes which are located throughout the body serve as filters that contain immune cells to fight infection and clean the blood. When cancer cells break away from a tumor anywhere in the body, the cells can travel through the lymph system to hide in these minuscule organs. Surgeons typically remove the nodes to determine if and how far a cancer has spread.

The chief challenge is that human nodes, only half a centimeter in size are difficult to detect among the surrounding tissue during surgery. The lymphatic system aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, pathogens, toxins and cancer cells.

Even if surgeons are able to map the location of the nodes, there is no technique available that indicates whether or not the lymph nodes contain cancer. This in turn leads to an invasive technique that requires the removal of more lymph nodes than is necessary.

The new technique however is so sensitive it can detect cancer sites measuring just millimeters across. "With molecular-targeted imaging, surgeons can avoid unnecessary removal of healthy lymph nodes which is better long-term for patients," Nguyen says.

She added that the tool enhanced a surgeon's visual field to such an extent that "no tumor is left behind."

Known as ratiometric activatable cell-penetrating peptides (RACPP), the fluorescently labeled molecules, are injectable.

When used in mouse models, surgeons could see where the cancer had spread with high sensitivity even when the sites were only a few millimeters in size.

At present doctors can only locate where the lymph nodes without finding out if they are cancerous. Current methods for managing prostate cancer involve removing all susceptible lymph nodes before discovering how far the cancer has spread.

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