A new prototype eyewear makes cancerous cells illuminate blue while looking through the lenses. The yet-unnamed device was developed by a team led by Samuel Achilefu of Washington University and was used on a human cancer patient for the first time just yesterday.
Depending on the type and location of the cancer, surgery can be a common first course of action to remove the diseased cells from the body. The surgeon must be careful not to cut away too much healthy tissue while at the same time getting all of the cancerous cells. As the cancerous cells are very small and can even be hard to distinguish under a microscope, surgeons need all the help they can get in properly identifying the cancer cells so they can be properly removed from the patient. If cells are left behind, the cancer will resurge and require additional surgery or more aggressive treatments.
The eyeglasses build upon previous research from Achilefu of a novel technique coined optical projection of acquired luminescence (OPAL). Molecular markers are introduced to the area slated for surgery and a video system detects and displays the luminescent cancer cells. The results of this study involving surgery in mice were published in October in the Journal of Biomedical Optics and seemed to be quite promising. The system is able to detect tumors with a diameter of 1 mm, which will reduce the amount of healthy tissue extracted during surgery. Going forward into human patients, a different biomarker will be used which will cause the tumor to glow blue on the screen.
On February 10, the glasses were put to the ultimate test as Dr. Julie Margenthaler used them to operate on a patient with breast cancer. After the surgery, she acknowledged that the technology is still in its infancy, but is “encouraged” by the potential, noting that it could reduce or even eliminate followup surgeries. While in use, the blue isn’t uniform; the shade indicates the concentration of cancer cells. Light blue patches are densely packed with cancer while darker regions have fewer diseased cells. The glasses will be used again later this month on a patient with melanoma.
So what does it actually look like though the eyes of the surgeon? Check it out: