Hot Pink Tumors

Gliomas glow hot pink after patients take experimental drug 5-Aminolevulinic Acid

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

(RxWiki News) Glioblastoma - the most aggressive form of brain cancer - doesn't appear as a distinct mass. The tumors are made up of the brain tissue itself. New technology is helping surgeons literally see the difference between diseased and healthy tissue.

Andrew Sloan, M.D. is testing an experimental drug called 5-Aminolevulinic Acid (5-ALA) that makes brain tumor cells glow hot pink when viewed with a special blue light that's part of his operating microscope. The drug helps distinguish tumors from healthy tissue to improve surgery to remove the cancer.

"Find out if your facility is testing 5-ALA for use in brain tumor surgery."

Dr. Sloan is director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He says part of the difficulty in treating glioblastoma is because is so hard to "figure out necessarily where tumor ends and swollen brain tissue begins."

The 5-ALA is a novel technique that lets surgeons see the edges of the tumor more clearly. Patients take the oral medication before and during surgery. This allows for more complete surgical removal in a process called fluorescent guided resection (FGR).

Gliomas - brain tumors - metabolize 5-ALA to a fluorescent compound that then glows with the blue light of a specially modified surgical microscope. The whole process lets Dr. Sloan see the glowing tumor tissue which helps him guide removal of the tumor.

He says that getting 95-99 percent of the tumor essentially doubles a patient's survival. He adds that cures are rare for patients with malignant gliomas, and survival is usually less than two years

5-ALA is commonly used in Europe, but hasn't been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). UH Case Medical Center is among only a handful of hospitals testing the drug for brain tumor surgery. 

Dr. Sloan is working with David Dean, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Imaging Laboratory in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Case Western Reserve University, to produce digital probes that will enhance this technology.

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Review Date: 
December 5, 2011
Last Updated:
December 5, 2011