Researchers explore potential of SapC-DOPS technology to provide better scans of hard-to-visualize brain cancers

CINCINNATI - Funding from the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation is helping researchers explore a new technology that causes brain cancer cells to fluoresce and thereby become visible in brain scans. Xiaoyang Qi, PhD, a researcher at the UC Brain Tumor Center and the Cincinnati Cancer Institute, has used an earlier discovery known as SapC-DOPS to serve as a transport vesicle to deliver bio-fluorescence agents directly to brain tumors in animal models.

The research is important because glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive brain cancer, is diffuse and difficult to image. Glioblastoma, unlike a solid tumor, can have boundaries that are virtually undetectable. It can spread out like a sheen of oil on water.

Finding a better way to image the brain cancer could lead to more targeted treatment strategies.

Dr. Qi, Associate Professor of Hematology-Oncology at UC, is internationally recognized for designing the nanovesicle SapC-DOPS, short for saposin-C dioleoylphosphatidylserine, while working at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 2002. SapC-DOPS is a drug that has been shown in preclinical studies to cause several types of cancer cells – including brain cancer cells – to self-destruct, without causing harm to healthy cells or tissues.

SapC-DOPS now has the potential to answer not one, but two, of the most urgent questions in brain cancer: how to acquire a good picture of the cancer, and how to treat it. Finding the tumor at an earlier stage, Dr. Qi says, could enable doctors to treat it sooner and more effectively. Although the research was conducted in animal models that were injected with a SapC-DOPS vesicle that contained illuminating agents, Dr. Qi says it soon could be tested in human populations using MRI and PET imaging.

Dr. Qi's research was published earlier this year in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). Dr. Qi is also a member of the Cincinnati Cancer Institute, a collaboration of UC, UC Health and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Additional funding for this research came from a New Drug State Key Project and the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Collaborators in the research included Kati LaSance, Director of the Vontz Core Imaging Lab, and Patrick Winter, PhD, of the Imaging Research Center at Cincinnati Children's.