Washington University Researchers Develop High-Tech Glasses to Identify and Remove Cancer Cells


A team led by Samuel Achilefu, PhD, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis have developed high-tech glasses that help surgeons identify and remove cancerous cells from patients. Researchers said that when looking through the sunglasses, infected tissues glow blue.

The eyewear facilitates surgeons to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells, ensuring no stray tumour cells are left behind during surgery. The researchers found that tumours as small as 1mm in diameter (the thickness of approximately 10 sheets of paper) could be exposed.

"A limitation of surgery is that it's not always clear to the naked eye the distinction between normal tissue and cancerous tissue," Ryan Fields, MD, an assistant professor of surgery and Siteman surgeon, said. "With the glasses developed by Dr. Achilefu, we can better identify the tissue that must be removed."

Researchers said that cancer cells are difficult to detect even through high-powered magnification.

Currently, surgeons take out tumours from the tissue, and remove some neighbouring tissue that may or may not contain cancer cells. These samples are then sent to a pathology lab. If cancer cells are found in the tissue sample, the patient are often asked to undergo second surgery to remove another round of tissue. These tissue samples are once again tested for cancer cells. The process continues till the tissue sample comes back clean.

The glasses could reduce or eliminate the need for such additional procedures.

Breast surgeon Dr Julie Margenthaler said that around 20 and 25 per cent of cancer patients who have their lumps removed are often recommended a second surgery because existing technologies does not actually reveal the extent of the disease during the first operation.

Margenthaler incorporated the wearable technology during a surgery for the first time this week at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. A series of future trials are scheduled to be held later this month before releasing it for medical purposes.

"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," Dr Margenthaler said in a statement. 'Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety.'

The study is published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

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