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Firefly Glow Guides Surgeons to Successful Removal of Mesothelioma Cells

Scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) are turning to the subtle glow of a firefly to guide surgeons to mesothelioma cancer cells.  The MSKCC researchers found a way to harness the bioluminescence glow of the insect for use as a dynamic imaging technique for battling the rare cancer.  

The researchers reported in the Annals of Surgical Oncology that mesothelioma cancer cells injected with the firefly luciferase gene, the biomarker responsible for the glow, were used as a tracer to guide surgical removal of mesothelioma cells.

Researchers took mesothelioma cancer cells and genetically modified them by adding the firefly’s luciferase gene. They observed that the mesothelioma cells infected with firefly genetic material gave off a bright, clear bioluminescent signal that grew brighter with more cancer cells and remained detectable with as few as 10 cancer cells. 

The researchers reported an unexpected finding whereby the bioluminescence imaging detected metastasis. They found that while the mice had been injected in the flank, the bioluminescence signal was detected in the flank as well as in the abdomen, where the cancer had metastasized.

Mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer, displays as a large mass of interlocked tumors that blend in with healthy tissue, making it difficult to operate on successfully.  However, the researchers were able to use a process known as electrocautery tumor ablation, a technique in which the tumors are “shaved,” guided by bioluminescence imaging, to remove the tumors from the infected mice. 

The researchers reported that in “all animals where tumor ablation was continued until the bioluminescence signal was extinguished, there was no tumor recurrence.”  The researchers noted that “this remarkable 100% complete response rate” was due to the efficacy of bioluminescence imaging.  

Currently, there is no treatment available for mesothelioma that has shown a 100% efficacy rate.  Mesothelioma cancer cells have proven to be resistant to the standard treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.  

The researchers concluded their findings encourage “research into bioluminescence imaging as a molecular technique with the potential to target tumors via biomarkers.” 

MSKCC is the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center, and has a team of specialists including surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, and nurses who deal exclusively with mesothelioma and other thoracic cancers.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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