Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose and can only be known after reaching an advanced stage where many tumors have spread throughout the abdomen. Although most patients undergo surgery, there are some tumors that are so small and widespread and thus, difficult to eradicate.
Now, researchers have developed a new way to improve the accuracy of ovarian tumor removal called debulking. The process uses a novel fluorescence imaging system which enabled the removal of tumors as small as 0.3 millimeters during surgery in mice.
"What's nice about this system is that it allows for real-time information about the size, depth, and distribution of tumors," says Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor of Biological Engineering and Materials Science at MIT, a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the recently appointed head of MIT's Department of Biological Engineering.
Researchers now are seeking FDA approval to begin a phase 1 clinical trial test for the imaging system in humans. They hope the development can be used for detecting patients at risk for tumor recurrence and for use for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer for better survival and treatment.
Researchers at MIT and MGH have developed an image-guided surgical system that could help surgeons better visualize and remove tiny ovarian tumors. Fluorescent carbon nanotubes are used as probes to bind to the tumors, making them easier to see. Image courtesy of MTI researchers.
"We desperately need better upfront therapies, including surgery, for these (ovarian cancer) patients. We know that the amount of tumor removed at the time of surgery for patients with advanced-stage ovarian cancer is directly correlated with their outcome," says Michael Birrer, formerly the director of medical gynecologic oncology. "This imaging device will now allow the surgeon to go beyond the limits of resecting tumors visible to the naked eye, and should usher in a new age of effective debulking surgery."
Findings of the study were reported online in the journal ACS Nano which describes the medical imaging development based on light in the near-infrared (NIR) spectrum.
"A major focus for us right now is developing the technology to be able diagnose ovarian cancer early, in stage 1 or stage 2, before the disease becomes disseminated," Belcher says. "That could have a huge impact on survival rates, because survival is related to the stage of detection."