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This year, more than 22,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. For most of them, surgery will be recommended to remove all visible disease because it gives them the best chance of survival.

However, sometimes microscopic pieces of the cancer are not visible to the naked eye. New technology that uses an ovarian cancer-targeted molecule and fluorescent dye may be able to change that.

Moffitt Cancer Center is one of the institutions involved in a clinical study that hopes to advance the surgical removal of ovarian cancer. Moffitt’s gynecological surgeons are using a tumor-targeted molecule called OTL38 and a near-infrared camera to see in real time hard-to-detect cancerous tissues that may otherwise go undiscovered.

Dr. Robert Wenham, chair, Gynecologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.

“The molecule binds to cells that are common on a lot of ovarian cancers,” Dr. Robert Wenham, chair of Moffitt’s Gynecological Oncology Program, said. “Because of that, if you were able to detect this using fluorescence, you might be able to see disease that you couldn’t with the naked eye.”

OTL38, which was developed by On Target Laboratories, is administered via IV before surgery. It is taken up by cancer cells, illuminating them with the aid of a near-infrared camera. It can help identify extremely small cancerous lesions as well as ones hidden below the surface of healthy tissue.

“Using the dye and the camera, areas light up and help me identify what to remove,” Wenham said. “It gives me the potential to get patients to an even lower amount of residual tumor and so far, that’s the one thing that is associated with increased patient survival.”

The clinical study is currently in Phase 3, but early Phase 1 results in 12 patients show OTL38 enabled surgeons to remove an additional 29 percent of malignant lesions that were not identified by the naked eye. If it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, OTL38 will be the first intra-operative targeted imaging agent for ovarian cancer in the U.S.