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Chemical that makes tumours glow could make brain surgery safer

A glowing chemical that lights up brain tumours could help surgeons to remove dangerous cancer cells more accurately.

Treatment for glioblastoma, the disease that killed Dame Tessa Jowell, involves surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible.

However, it can be challenging for surgeons to do so while avoiding healthy brain tissue.


A chemical known as 5-ALA can make the cancerous mass glow (Picture: YouTube)

Medics have now trialled the fluorescent marker, which they say helps to distinguish aggressive cancer cells and could ultimately improve patient survival.

A study at three hospitals in England involved patients drinking a substance containing the chemical 5-aminolevulinic acid, or 5-ALA.

Of the 99 glioblastoma patients to take part in the trial, surgeons reported seeing fluorescent tissue in 85 cases.

Further tests by pathologists found that 81 had high-grade disease – those without noticeable fluorescent tissue were all found to have low-grade disease.

File photo dated 08/03/06 of Tessa Jowell addressing the TUC women's conference on International Women's Day at the Winter Gardens in Eastbourne. The Former Labour cabinet minister Dame Tessa Jowell has died, her family announced on Sunday.

Dame Tessa Jowell suffered from glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer (Picture: PA)

The study was led by Colin Watts, professor of neurosurgery and chairman of the Brain Cancer Programme at the University of Birmingham.

Prof Watts said: ‘Neurosurgeons need to be able to distinguish tumour tissue from other brain tissue, especially when the tumour contains fast-growing, high-grade cancer cells.

‘The advantage of this technique is that it may highlight more quickly high-grade disease within a tumour during neurosurgery.

‘What this means is that more of the tumour can be removed more safely and with fewer complications, and that’s better for the patient.’

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