Probe that lights up cancer cells could be game-changer during surgery

2 Jul 2019

Image: © Crystal light/

RCSI researchers have published findings on a new probe that lights up cancer cells during surgery for substantially better tumour removal.

Efforts continue to find ways to make surgery less about poking around in people’s bodies and more about advanced, technological solutions, such as in cancer discovery. To that end, researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have developed a ‘bright idea’ that could have a serious impact during surgery.

Publishing their findings to Chemical Science, Prof Donal O’Shea and his fellow researchers have developed a probe that can light up cancer cells during surgery using the latest in fluorescence imaging.

“This is a very significant development, which has the potential to transform the surgical management of cancer, improving outcomes for patients. Almost 60pc of all cancer patients will undergo surgery as part of their treatment,” said O’Shea.

“A new technology that could improve surgical outcomes by giving the surgical team real-time, informative images during the surgical procedure would have a wide-ranging and sustained impact on the care of cancer patients.”

Addressing the next steps, he added: “At the moment, this is science. A clinical trial is our next goal and that would allow the full potential of this discovery to be realised for patients, enhancing detection of life-threatening diseases and improving outcomes of surgical procedures.”

The project received funding as part of the Project Ireland 2040 Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund in collaboration with leading cancer surgeon Prof Ronan Cahill in the Mater University Hospital and University College Dublin.

Earlier this year, researcher James Blackwell of NUI Galway revealed his own plan to limit poking of the brain, a practice commonly done by surgeons to identify tumours that need to be removed.

His alternative method attempts to create stiffness maps of the brain called elastograms using ultrasound shear waves. The main goal of this project, he said, is to detect brain tumours in real time.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic