Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a Nigerian-born scientist, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering has won the St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-visualizing glasses.
Dr Achilefu and his team developed a wearable night vision-like goggles that surgeons could use in cancer removal surgery so as to see the cancer cells while operating as they basically have to operate in the dark. According to Washington University in St. Louis, Achilefu’s ‘cancer goggles’ are designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish malignant cells from healthy cells, helping to ensure that no stray tumour cells are left behind during surgery to remove a cancerous tumour. The glasses could reduce the need for additional surgical procedures and the subsequent stress on patients, as well as time and expense. The system uses custom video technology, a head-mounted display and a targeted molecular display that attaches itself to cancer cells, giving them a glow when viewed through the eye gear.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek quoted Achilefu as saying “I thought, what if we create something that let you see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye.”
“Our efforts start with two words: ‘What if?’. These words may sound simple, but they embody the belief that each person has the potential to make a difference, if only he or she can take the time to understand the problem.”
According to Bloomberg, the researchers’ technology requires two steps: First, surgeons inject a tiny quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient’s bloodstream. The peptides contained in the marker enable it to locate cancer cells and buries itself inside.
The tracer flows through a patient’s body and clears from non-cancerous tissue, this goes on for about about four hours then the operation would begin. The doctor can inspect tumours under an infrared light that reacts with the dye, causing cancer cells to glow from within when the goggle is worn.
The goggles have been used on humans for the first time this June by surgeons at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Four patients suffering from breast cancer and over two dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles since they were developed. Many cancer patients had have to go back for second operations every year because of the inability to see the microscopic extent of the tumours.
The award is given to a resident of the St. Louis area whose achievements reflect positively on the community.