New Spray Lights Up Cancer Cells

Mouse with Glowing Cancer Cells

Researchers have developed an ovarian cancer probe that significantly shortens result turnaround time and enables surgeons to detect residual malignant cells.

Doctors don’t have forever to sit around and wait for lengthy testing procedures to work while a patient lies with his chest open, but missing cancer cells after removing a tumor can have deadly consequences. Japanese researchers have now created a probe for ovarian cancer that drastically reduces the amount of time needed for results and allows surgeons to spot malignant cells that have been left behind.

The new probe is activated by an enzyme that’s found in the cell membrane of ovarian cancer cells, making the probe glow during its passage through the cell. According to, the glow-in-the-dark cancer tracker works within minutes.

“Our probe is actuated in minutes or even seconds — that’s very important for the surgeon, who can’t necessarily wait 20 minutes,” says Hisataka Kobayashi of the University of Tokyo, author of the new study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Tests were first performed on human ovarian cancer cell lines in vitro, and then mouse models were used. Currently, the probe is being used to test fresh tumor specimens from human patients.

While the current probe is designed to locate ovarian cancer cells, there’s work being done to make similar probes that will work with gastric, colon, liver, and uterine cancers.

You can see the spray in action in the video, but you might want to skip it if shows like “CSI” make you squeamish. The test subject is a dead mouse and internal organs are visible while the doctor pokes and prods with a couple of pairs of tweezers.

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