A drug that makes brain cancer cells glow during surgery is being used for the first time in Australia, ABC Melbourne reports.
Gliolan is now being used by neurosurgeons in Melbourne, as it helps the surgical team in identifying the cancerous tissue during brain surgery and removing it entirely.
The drug works on high grade glioma, a type of brain tumour with a poor prognosis.
Royal Melbourne Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Kate Drummond performed one of the first operations using the drug on Sept. 17, when she operated on David Hall, 53, who had a malignant glioma.
Another neurosurgeon, Dr. David Walker, had performed the same procedure just a day before in Brisbane.
Continue Reading Below
Dr. Drummond says the technique is already commonly used in Europe and the UK.
Mr. Hall was only diagnosed with the tumour on the Monday before his operation and Dr. Drummond praised him for being brave enough to try something new. He went home 48 hours after the surgery and is still recovering.
We're still in the planning phases for his next therapy but that will almost certainly involve radiation and chemotherapy, she said.
The drug is given to the patient in a drink three to four hours before surgery, accumulating in the cells of the tumour which then glow under the blue light of an operating microscope.
This drug basically helps us visualise the tumour better so that we can differentiate tumour from normal brain. So we can remove more of the tumour than was possible before and so that we can protect the normal brain, Dr. Drummond told ABC News Online.
She says it makes the complex surgery safer for the patient.
It might seem astonishing, but in fact often the difference in appearance between tumour and brain is not as obvious as you might think... being able to clearly differentiate between tumour and normal brain using this drug makes things a lot easier for us, she said.
It's a straightforward way to make surgery both more effective and safer. So I think that there will probably be higher uptake of this kind of procedure across Australia.
Asked on the drug's side effects, Dr. Drummond says the main side effect of Gliolan is that it makes people sensitive to light for a day.
Obviously you wouldn't want to go out sunbaking within the 24 hours after you've taken it, but just normal ambient light is not a problem, she said.
Regardless of the benefit the new procedure brings, the surgery remains a team effort and Dr Drummond heaped praise on the multiple specialists involved.
According to the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) figures 1,123 people died from brain cancer in 2007.