Make it Glow: Making Brain Tumors Glow in the Dark Makes Them More Treatable

By Laura Kemmerer

When you think of “glow in the dark,” you’re more likely to become nostalgic for childhood toys rather than think of anything associated with the brain—let alone anything malignant. But a team of surgeons at the University of Cambridge is taking a whole new approach to revealing the dimensions of brain tumors and doing so by making the tumors glow in the dark.

According to the University of Cambridge, the second phase of the trial, known as GALA-5, will be carried out by Dr. Colin Watts with 60 patients who have been diagnosed with one of the most malignant forms of brain cancer—glioblastoma, which holds a survival rate of 15 months from diagnosis according to a press release from Cancer Research U.K. With the kind of dire prognosis that comes with something like a glioblastoma, the team is looking at treatment from a two-pronged perspective.

The First Step: Make the Tumor Glow

Nvate glioblastoma cancer chemotherapy glow in the dark cancer research U.K.

The first step in this experimental treatment is the use of 5-Amino-Levulinic-Acid or 5-ALA, which becomes fluorescent upon entering the body, according to the press release. The brain tumor will begin to glow under ultraviolet light, which then enables surgeons to have a more accurate immediate picture of the dimensions of the tumor. Such a treatment also promises that the tumor removal will be more comprehensive, and that there will be much less to “clean up” after the fact.

The Second Step: Insert Chemotherapy Drug

And this is where the second step in the treatment comes in. According to the press release, thin wafers comprised of the chemotherapy drug carmustine are then placed into the cavity left by the tumor. The drug, upon local release, will clear out whatever remains of the cancer. Such a straightforward process holds a lot of promise for patients who have been diagnosed with something as severe as a glioblastoma, as well as others who suffer from similar, life-altering problems.

“Brain tumor research receives a fraction of the funding of that of higher profile cancers and it is our priority to redress the balance,” Neil Dickson, founder and chair of trustees of the Samantha Dickinson Brain Tumor Trust, said in the press release. “This is essential as figures show that advances in treatment, achieved through the dedicated work of committed researchers over the years, have had a beneficial effect.”

Funding the Clinical Trials

Normally, other, more “high profile” cancers receive a higher percentage of donations, but two charities working in tandem—the Samantha Dickinson Brain Tumor Trust and Cancer Research U.K. —are looking to rectify this imbalance by being the primary funding sources for this innovative new treatment.

Treating brain tumors is a real challenge facing clinicians and we urgently need new treatments to help more people diagnosed with the disease,” Director of clinical research at Cancer Research U.K. Kate Law said in the press release. “By working together we are able to fund more research and really focus on areas that are going to make a telling difference.”

“If the combination of the two therapies is found to be safe and effective, it will be followed by a larger phase III trial,” as stated in the press release.

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