‘Pink Drink’ makes tumours glow, surgery more effective

A chemical that sets aglow tumour cells could help spot and safely remove them, said a researcher in a trial presented at a cancer conference in Glasgow this week.

Ninety-nine patients with suspected glioma, a common form of brain cancer, being treated at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, Kings College Hospital in London or Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge were involved in the trial.

A compound called 5-aminolevulinic acid or 5-ALA was administered as a drink (‘Pink Drink’) to patients prior to surgery to make tumour cells glow bright pink under ultraviolet light.

It helped surgeons identify all cancer cells while leaving healthy brain tissue unharmed.

Surgeons reported seeing fluorescence in 85 patients. Pathology tests proved 81 tumours removed had high-grade and fast growing cells.

After pathology tests, doctors can plan further treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, said Dr Kathreena Kurian (above, Photo Credit: North Bristol NHS Trust), reader and associate professor in brain tumour research at the University of Bristol and consultant neuropathologist at North Bristol NHS Trust, who presented the research.

A surgery this way could ultimately brighten the chances of a patient’s survival.

Professor Colin Watts, chair of the Birmingham brain cancer programme at the University of Birmingham who led the study, said this is the first prospective trial to show the benefits of using 5-ALA to improve the accuracy of diagnosing high-grade glioma during surgery.

The advantage using this method of surgery is more of the tumour can be removed more safely and with fewer complications which is good for the patient, he added.

Researchers, however, believe that other types of fluorescent marker may be required for detecting low-grade glioma cells.