Weird Science: Surgery’s Avant Garde–Color Coded Tumors

Gooitzen Van Dam at the University of Gonnigen makes his tumors glow.

Don’t tell me: the avant garde is at it again? They’ve come up with a ghoulish mashup between art and health?

No and no. We’re talking about a technique that marks the periphery of a cancer mass so surgeons can tell where the tumor ends and normal tissue begins. Differentiating between the two is an iffy process at best. I imagine surgeons try to err on the side of caution and take more tissue than what they need to. Even then they’re never sure and some cancer probably gets left behind. This new technique will color code the tumor cells for easy identification.

Not actually color code them, but make them fluoresce, light up brightly, shine in the night.

Here’s how it works: A few hours before surgery for ovarian cancer, the patient is intravenously fed a solution containing fluorescent-marked folate, more specifically: Folate-Receptor-alpha-targeted fluoerescent agent.

The surface of ovarian cancer cells apparently over-express for folate. According to Merriam-Webster, genes over-express by producing too much of the gene’s effect or product. So in the case of folate and ovarian cancer cells, I guess the genes in the cancer cells sweep up the excess folate in the system from the intravenous drip and deposit the folate products near the surface of the cancer cells. Since the folate molecules from the drip are tagged with a fluorescent dye, these cells glow with the oncological equivalent of an x-marks-the-spot sign.

If you’re not too squeamish, watch the amazing video.

Here’s hoping they find the folate equivalent for every type of cancer’s over-expression.

Of course it’s better to prevent cancer in the first place, but barring a miracle that produces a chemical-, x-ray-, cosmic background-, and free-radical-free existence, cancer’s going to be around for some time to come. Bring on the avant garde.

Thanks for reading.

Sue Lange

Check out Sue Lange’s latest novel, Tritcheon Hash, “a wild good read.”

This essay was posted on December 24, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.

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