Brain cancer is a classic double whammy: the extremely invasive form of cancer is both deadly and difficult to treat. Fortunately, there’s a promising solution on the table: tumor painting.

Because brain cancer tends to invade surrounding healthy brain tissue, it blurs the line between tumor and non-tumor tissue, and makes it difficult for surgeons to circumvent the healthy parts of the brain when they saw away at the tumor. On top of that, current imaging techniques produce fairly imprecise representations of the tissue, which only compounds the problem.

But now, researchers at the University of Washington have found that they can illuminate mouse brain tumors (and thus distinguish them from surrounding tissue in MRIs and optical imaging) by injecting fluorescent nanoparticles into the rodents’ bloodstream. To reach the tumor, the nanoparticles have to traverse the blood-brain barrier, an almost impervious gate that protects the brain from infection. To date, no other nanoparticles had been able to make the difficult crossing.

In the future, brain tumor painting could make for more precise brain surgery in humans, and could potentially also lead to earlier cancer detection by means of locating smaller tumors.

[Via ScienceDaily]