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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Neurological Disorders Channel
Reported August 16, 2010

Fluorescent Medicine for Brain Tumors

PITTSBURGH, PA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Brain surgeons are studying pills that turn cancer cells fluorescent colors, allowing surgeons to remove them with more accuracy than ever before.  It’s a procedure that may bring new hope to 14,000 people who are diagnosed each year with a malignant glioma, the most common form of a malignant brain tumor.

Joe Jonasen has spent most of his life behind the wheel. For this trucker, driving has been a great way to make a living. But earlier this year, doctors diagnosed him with glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer that is often tough to treat.

“If they’re going to operate, then maybe I have a chance. To take care of my family, and work, and that’s what I did,” Jonasen told Ivanhoe.

For Jonasen to survive, doctors needed to remove 95 percent of the cancerous cells, which were very close to the area of the brain linked to speech.
“We have to maximize the resection, yet also make sure we have a functional outcome for the patient,” Khaled Aziz, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA, said.

Doctors are testing a technique that makes it easier to visualize cancer cells. Before surgery, patients swallow a pill, called five ALA, which reacts with the chemicals in the body.  When surgeons look through a scope under ultraviolet light, healthy cells turn blue. Cancer cells light up hot pink.

“That’s an advantage of the 5 ALA,” Dr. Aziz explained. “That it allows us to track it, because as I told you, sometimes you can’t differentiate between tumor cells and brain cells under the microscope.”

Jonasen recovered from surgery with his vision, speech and motor skills intact. At 66, he can retire but won’t hear of it.

“I’m not made that way,” Jonasen said. ”I’ve got to work, until, you know, a lot of people do…God bless them, but I don’t want to do that.” 

This new technique may be giving Jonasen more time with family and maybe more time on the road.

Jonasen will also receive chemotherapy to treat the small percentage of cancerous cells surgeons had to leave in place. The oral dose of ALA is already approved for use in Germany. A United States study found six months after surgery, 40 percent of those receiving ALA prior to surgery had no progression in their tumor as opposed to 21 percent of the patients who did not have fluorescent-guided surgery.

More Information

Click here for additional research on Fluorescent Medicine for Brain Tumors

Click here for Ivanhoe's full-length interview with Dr. Aziz

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at

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