THE BLOG

Brain Surgery With Glow In The Dark Cancer Cells

30/11/2016 17:21
Wavebreakmedia Ltd via Getty Images

Imagine the power of being able to make cancer cells actually glow in the dark, with aggressive cancer cells lifeblood brighter than the rest.

That's exactly what Dr Colin Watts pioneering trial is doing.

It's the sort of trial that benefits people with brain cancer, something my grandfather passed away from earlier this year.

Without this technique, it can be tough to tell aggressive cancers from slow growing cancer, or even from healthy tissue.

This similarity makes it hard for surgeons to remove every bit of cancer. But if the aggressive cancer cells are glowing, surgeons can find it much easier to operate accurately.

Listen to Dr Colin Watts explain how he uses the glow in the dark cells.

We also meet Christopher, a glioblastoma patient who actually had this technique used on him.

The way it works is really quite clever (and not magic like my producer kept insisting).

Patients are given a special drink before their operation. This lemony-tasting drink contains a chemical called 5-ALA which is absorbed by cancer cells and then basically rearranged into a much larger molecule - one that looks a little bit crystal like. When the surgeon turns on a light of a specific colour, the light waves bounce off this crystal and re-emerge bright pink, helping to guide the operation.

Sadly many people who listen to this podcast will have watched on helplessly as cancer took someone they loved. It's a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling. But science is how we retaliate. In this episode, I spoke about my Grandad who, unfortunately, died before research advanced enough to help him.

Every day I meet people who get amazed by what research can do, yet too often people also say that they don't really like science. I worry that there may be a problem with how it's taught.

Perhaps there is too much emphasis on practising equations and memorising lists. That's not a recipe for inspiring every young mind. One bad experience of a subject can put you off it for life. So we should make sure that when talking about science that we never lose sight of the excitement and wonder.

In Colin's trial, physics, biology and chemistry all meet to do something extraordinary, and this is just one example of millions of equally amazing projects.

I hope my cancer story in this episode will inspire people in different ways,
I hope it will inspire some to fundraise or donate, as this is the life-blood of research,
I hope more young minds will go on to give science a go,

And I hope it will inspire all of us to join the rebellion and Stand Up To Cancer.

Listen and subscribe to the podcast on AudioBoom, Spotify, iTunes or with RSS on your favourite podcast player.

P.S. We got to make this cool animation about the glow-in-the-dark trial. It explains it really well.

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