New nanotechnology research study turns brain tumours blue

Researchers from Georgia Tech and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta have developed a technique that assists in identifying tumours from normal brain tissue during surgery by staining tumour cells blue.

The technique could be critically important for hospitals lacking sophisticated equipment in preserving the maximum amount of normal tissue and brain function during surgery.

Published this week in the journal Drug Delivery and Translational Medicine, the research was led by Dr Barun Brahma, MD, Children's neurosurgeon and biomedical engineer, and Ravi Bellamkonda, the Carol Ann and David D Flanagan Chair in Biomedical Engineering at the Wallace H Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Brahma initially approached the Georgia Tech-based laboratory of Bellamkonda to see if it would be possible to manually distinguish a tumour from normal tissue during surgery without using complex equipment that might be unavailable to some health facilities.

Bellamkonda's lab developed a nanocarrier made of fat that carried a clinically approved dye called Evans Blue.

The team demonstrated that these nanocarriers leak out of blood vessels in the tumour margin and stain brain tumours blue. Using tumour cells injected into a rat brain, the team proved nanocarriers are able to find their way to the brain tumour and selectively dye it blue while excluding normal brain tissue.

The findings are significant for hospitals worldwide that lack machines to help guide tumour removal, such as an intraoperative MRI machine. This new technique could help neurosurgeons remove brain tumours in children more accurately all over the world, the researchers said.

Brahma, Bellamkonda and other collaborators are developing a range of nanotechnologies designed to treat brain tumours and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

Other authors on the article include researchers from the Bellamkonda lab and Phil Santangelo, assistant professor and optical imaging expert in the joint biomedical engineering department at Georgia Tech and Emory University. The collaboration embodies the power and potential of the rapidly growing partnership between Children's, Georgia Tech and Emory.

The research effort is in collaboration with the Children's Neurosciences Center. This effort is part of the Emory+Children's Pediatric Research Center led by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University, including partnerships with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Morehouse School of Medicine. The research was funded by Ian's Friends Foundation in Atlanta and the Georgia Cancer Coalition.