The team of scientists from GE Global Research has developed an initial fluorescent imaging agent and a prototype imaging system to light up most nerves in the body to prevent inadvertent nerve damage during surgery.

GE said that its nerve labeling agent, developed in the research center’s biosciences labs, is a fluorescent small molecule that localizes to myelin, which is a major component of motor nerves and clinically important sensory nerves, such as the cavernous nerves of the prostate. The agent then fluoresces, or lights up under an optical imaging system developed in tandem by a group of biomedical engineers in GE’s Research labs.

GE scientists have optimized a prototype imaging system with a fluorescent imaging agent to localize to the margins of a tumor to provide a better chance of removing all of the cancer. The nerve and tumor margin agents could be used together to help surgeons in removing right tissue while also identifying sensitive areas such as nerves to avoid.

Curtis Pettaway, professor of urology and cancer biology and director of the MDACC Prostate Outreach Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said: “GE’s imaging technology could help more clearly distinguish nerves during surgery facilitating surgical management.

“If the nerve relationship to the prostate and other structures could be more accurately identified, then nerve-sparing procedures could be more precisely performed. This is especially important for a radical prostatectomy, where there is a fine line between a positive tumor margin and nerve sparing.”

Cristina Tan Hehir, biochemist and project leader on the Nerve Imaging project, said: “Nerves surrounding the prostate are often challenging to see and precisely locate during surgery. The hope is that the technologies being developed by GE could offer surgeons a much clearer line of sight to these nerves in the operating room. This could enhance surgical procedures and improve patient outcomes.”