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Using fluorescent peptides to shine a light on tissues and tumors during surgery

Accidental damage to nerves during surgery can sometimes result in chronic pain, paralysis and other adverse events. To help surgeons be more precise, a group of UC San Diego researchers have developed a technique using injectable fluorescent peptides to make hard-to-see peripheral nerves glow.

In this TEDMED video, Quyen Nguyen, MD, PhD, an otolaryngologist at UC San Diego, describes how she and colleagues identified a molecule that sticks to nerve cells, tagged that molecule with a fluorescent compound and injected it into mice. The result: the animals' peripheral nerves appeared as if they were highlighted with luminescent paint within two hours and remained glowing for another six hours. Of course, much more research will be needed before the technique can be used in humans, but Nguyen and her team hope the technology will eventually help preventing accidental nerve damage during surgery.

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