New protease-activated imaging agent successfully fluoresces tumors

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Work is underway around the world to better localize and visualize cancer cells using fluorescence. Now, researchers at Duke Medicine report they have tested the first fluorescent imaging agent activated by a protease enzyme and proven safe in humans.

The team found the injectable liquid, LUM015, aided the detection and margin assessment of cancerous tissue in 15 patients undergoing surgery for soft-tissue sarcoma or breast cancer.

Their study was published online Jan. 6 in  Science Translational Medicine.

The study report also describes LUM015 experiments conducted on mice by the Duke team as part of the same phase 1 co-clinical trial.

Members tracked the substance’s accumulation in tumors and found that it creates fluorescence that is on average five times brighter than normal muscle tissue.

The resulting signals are detected by a handheld imaging device and camera, which is under development at Wellesley, Mass.-based Lumicell Inc., according to Duke’s office of news and communications.

The probe itself was developed by Lumicell in collaboration with scientists at Duke and MIT.

The office further reports that researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are currently evaluating the safety and efficacy of LUM015 and the Lumicell imaging device in a prospective study of 50 women with breast cancer.

Study co-senior author David Kirsch, MD, PhD, a professor of radiation oncology and pharmacology, told the news department that, following this work, multiple institutions will likely evaluate whether the technology can decrease the number of patients needing subsequent operations following initial breast cancer removal.

“The goal is to give surgeons a practical and quick technology that allows them to scan the tumor bed during surgery to look for any residual fluorescence,” Kirsch says.

If the technology is successful in subsequent trials, adds study co-senior author Brian Brigman, MD, PhD, chief of orthopedic oncology at Duke and director of its sarcoma program, “it would significantly change our treatment of sarcoma.”