Fluorescent cranial nerves: image via Wellcome Images Imagine that the nerves in your body could
light up just like glow sticks. That's what a new liquid developed at
the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) does when it enters your
bloodstream, enabling surgeons to better distinquish between nerves and
other body tissues.
Researchers from the Departments of Pharmacology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCSD have developed an amino acid based fluorescent liquid that will travel through the bloodstream and light up when it hits a nerve.
It is important to preserve nerves during surgery, because any interference with them could lead to serious complications such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction (during prostate surgery), pain, numbness, weakness, or paralysis. Though electromyography is used to identify the most prominent nerves, the thin or buried nerves may be overlooked with these methods.
The fluorescent liquid developed by UCSD researchers was tested on mice and it proved effective at binding to all peripheral nerves. The contrast between the nerves and the adjacent tissue increased by 10 times and the contrast lasted for up to 8 hours. There were no changes in behavior or activity of the mice after the application, which indicated to the researchers that there was no toxicity. The researchers also tested the fluorescent liquid on nerves in human tissue samples successfully.
This accomplishment is especially important when surgery is performed on tumors, as they are often entangled by nerves.
The full study is published in the online journal Nature Biotechnolog.
sources: KPBS News, Nature Biotechnology