‘Tumor paint’ helping surgeons remove tumors by illuminating them

Lighting up brain tumors

Lighting up brain tumors

It’s called ‘tumor paint’ and doctors feel it could help save lives.

Tumor paint is a much-simplified way to describe it, but it’s a chemical that illuminates brain tumors that was used in a clinical trial at Children’s Minnesota.

“The goal is to see if we can get a better complete removal using [tumor paint] and then have fewer side effects or injury to the surrounding brain,” Dr. Anne Bendel, director of Children’s Minnesota’s neuro-oncology program, said.

Children’s treated 22 patients during the trial run, and dozens more were treated with tumor paint across the country. One of the first local cases involved 16-month-old Camille Ponting, whose tilted head had her parents worried.

“Her head started tilting sideways, where her ear was almost to her shoulder; we knew something at that point just seemed off,” Steph Ponting said about her daughter Camille.

Camille Ponting before tumor paint clinical trial (Credit: Children’s Minnesota)

An MRI showed Camille had a brain tumor nestled along her brain stem. Within days the family was preparing for brain surgery, where tumor paint was used.

“A brain tumor, or any type of tumor cancer, is potentially life-threatening. So that’s their worst nightmare,” Dr. Bendel said about the Ponting family’s situation.

“We felt that we could probably do a complete removal of it. But the brainstem is a very delicate area of the brain where there’s a lot of important fibers,” Dr. Bendel added those fibers help control just about everything – from arms and legs to being able to swallow.

That is why they felt Camille was a good fit for tumor paint.

Dr. Bendel said the day before the surgery, Camille was injected with the chemical, which then binded with the tumor, and when surgeons exposed the tumor to near-infrared light, the tumor glowed.

“The surgeon can get a better complete removal because they can tell what’s normal brain and what’s tumor,” Dr. Bendel said.

While tumor paint is not officially approved for use, the Pontings are grateful the experimental procedure was available as Camille is now almost five years old and is happy and healthy.

“The fact that they can have these new tools [that] just helped them that much more, it’s just awesome,” Jon Ponting, Camille’s father, said.

Camille Ponting after tumor paint clinical trial (Credit: Children’s Minnesota)

The family says post tumor paint procedure, Camille’s head-tilt self-corrected itself almost immediately and that there have been no side effects or complications.