Cancer-Detecting Glasses Light Up Tumors

Cancer-Detecting Glasses Light Up Tumors

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine developed eyewear that helps doctors differentiate cancerous from healthy cells.

Leah Gonzalez
  • 12 february 2014

High-tech eyewear developed at the Washington University School of Medicine helps surgeons detect cancers cells, which glow blue when viewed using the special glasses.

Cancer cells are quite difficult to see even through high-powered magnification. The special glasses are designed to make it easy for surgeons to differentiate cancerous cells from healthy cells — allowing surgeons to make sure no cancer cells are left during surgery.

The glasses were developed by a team led by Samuel Achilefu, PhD, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at the university. The technology involve a head-mounted display, custom video technology, and a targeted molecular agent that makes cancer cells glow when viewed through the glasses.

The usual procedure for surgery requires doctors to remove tumors and neighboring tissue which may or may not have cancer cells. The tissue is sent to a lab for tests and if cancer cells are detected, a second surgery is usually recommended to remove additional tissue that is also tested for the presence of cancer. The special eyewear can potentially eliminate the need for follow-up surgical procedures and save patients from more stress and anxiety, as well as expenses.

The special eyewear has yet to be named but it has already been used during surgery at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Julie Margenthaler, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Washington University and one of the breast surgeons who has performed surgery with the special eyewear, said,

We’re in the early stages of this technology, and more development and testing will be done, but we’re certainly encouraged by the potential benefits to patients. Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety.

Dr. Achilefu, who also happens to be co-leader of the Oncologic Imaging Program at Siteman Cancer Center, is seeking approval from the FDA for a different molecular agent that he is helping to develop for use with the special eyewear. The agent targets cancer cells specifically and stays longer inside of them.

Washington University


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