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Penn Medicine Receives $9 Million Award From NCI to Study Intraoperative Molecular Imaging

By: Lauren Velentzas
Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2022

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has recently awarded the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Medicine) a 5-year $9 million research grant to build on the research on the use of imaging technology in the treatment of patients with non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The technology, called intraoperative molecular imaging, is based on fluorescent beacon molecules that target and bind themselves to tumor cells. By illuminating the tumor tissue, clinicians may be better able to distinguish cancer from healthy tissue.

The first large multi-institutional, randomized clinical trial of the technology in lung cancer has been completed, with the results are expected this year. Data from previous clinical trials have also shown that intraoperative molecular imaging has the potential to help surgeons detect tumors during nonsurgical inspection of patients’ lungs via bronchoscopy.

The fluorescent beacon molecules used in intraoperative molecular imaging are normally infused into the patient hours or days before surgery. They bind to cell-surface receptors, which are particularly abundant on cancer cells. The light the beacons emit is typically in the near-infared range, allowing for visualization detection of tumor cells up to about 2 cm below the tissue surface, depending on the tissue type. Tissue tagged with these fluorescing beacons can be imaged in real time, during surgery, with relatively portable equipment.

The new research aims to develop and test improved beacon molecules for NSCLC and imaging equipment. The clinical trials of the new technology will be conducted at Penn Medicine, led by principal investigator Sunil Singhal, MD, Director for Precision Surgery at the Abramson Cancer Center. “We aim to develop this technology even further and to study it in additional clinical trials to help improve surgical identification and removal of tumors.”

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