Glow-in-the-Dark for Monitoring Throat Cancer

Barretts esophagus dysplasia monitoring with flourescent glycan application

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For some types of cancer, particularly malignancies of the throat, there is a period of time before the cancer is fully developed where it could go either way. New ways of monitoring these precancerous areas to catch cancer earlier are under development.

Barrett's esophagus is a condition where long-standing indigestion, also known as acid reflux, causes the cells in the throat to change, raising the risk of esophageal cancer.

In recent research, more accurate monitoring has been introduced to track the progression of the cancer.

"Learn about the latest ways to screen for and monitor cancer development."

A group from Cambridge's MRC Cancer Cell Unit developed a technique to spray a fluorescent dye over the throat during endoscopy. This makes the precanceous areas glow brightly so physicians are able see the right area that needs to be sampled for biopsy.

The technique uses a molecule known as glycan, which is isolated from wheat. With the addition of a fluorescent compound scientists are able to see precisely where in the throat a patient with Barrett's esophagus needs a biopsy. This helps avoid false negatives and repeated biopsies.

The team was led by Rebecca Fitzgerald, M.D. "We have demonstrated that binding of a wheat germ protein, which is cheap and non-toxic, can identify differences in surface sugars on pre-cancerous cells," she said.

"And when coupled with fluorescence imaging using an endoscopic camera, this technique offers a promising new way of finding and then treating patients with the highest risk of developing esophageal cancer, at the earliest stage."

"The rise in cases of esophageal cancer both in the UK and throughout the Western world means that it is increasingly important to find ways of detecting it as early as possible," Dr. Fitzgerald added. "Our work has many potential benefits for those with Barrett's esophagus who have an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer."

The results were published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The authors of this research denied any financial conflict of interest.

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Review Date: 
March 8, 2012
Last Updated:
March 8, 2012