Researchers at the University of Michigan (UM) are developing a pill that makes tumours light up when exposed to infrared light, and the concept has worked in mice.
“It’s actually based on a failed drug,” said Greg Thurber, UM assistant professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering, in a news release posted on UM website.
“It binds to the target, but it doesn’t do anything, which makes it perfect for imaging.”
The researchers attached a molecule that fluoresces when it is struck with infrared light to this drug.
Then, they gave the drug to mice that had breast cancer, and they saw the tumours light up.
The targeting molecule has already been shown to make it through the stomach unscathed, and the liver also gives it a pass, so it can travel through the bloodstream.
The move could also catch cancers that would have gone undetected.
By providing specific information on the types of molecules on the surface of the tumour cells, physicians can better distinguish a malignant cancer from a benign tumour.
Moreover, using a dye delivered orally rather than directly into a vein also improves the safety of screening.
Tens of millions of women are screened every year in the U. S. alone.
According to a study out of Denmark last year, about a third of breast cancer patients treated with surgery or chemotherapy have tumours that are benign or so slow-growing that they would never have become life-threatening.
The research has been published in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.