High-Tech Glasses Help Surgeons See Stray Cancer Cells

Sophisticated glasses see cancer cells invisible to the naked eyeNew high-tech glasses developed in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Medicine can reduce the need for follow-up surgery by giving surgeons the ability to find hard to see cancer cells during surgery. The team that developed this new technology was led by Samuel Achilefu, PhD. Dr. Achilefu is a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering. These high-tech specs will cause cancer cells to appear blue to surgeons who sport the eyewear.

The glasses provide surgeons with the unique ability to identify diseased cells from healthy ones. This helps ensure that wandering cancerous growth does not remain in the body during surgery. The specs, however, are still new and have yet to be named. More development and testing will be done according to Julie Margenthaler, breast surgeon at Washington University, but doctors are encouraged by the potential benefits this brings to patients.

Margenthaler said this has the possibility of eliminating not just additional surgery but all that is associated with it such as anxiety, pain and inconvenience. She went on to say as it stands currently surgeons work to remove cancerous tumors and some of the surrounding tissue which may contain cancerous cells, but may not.

Nearly 20-25 percent of breast cancer patients who have had a lumpectomy, according to Margenthaler, were required to have additional surgery because some of the cancerous materials were missed. The hope with this new technology is to eliminate or at least greatly reduce the need for a second operation.

The glasses do require additional equipment to work properly. These high-tech specs work in conjunction with custom video technology which includes a targeted molecular agent which attaches itself to cancerous cells and a head-mounted display.

Scientists have reported that tumors could be detected with the new specs as small as 1 millimeter in diameter. The university is now seeking approval for a different molecular agent, which acts like a dye, from the Food and Drug Administration. For best results they need one that specifically targets cancer cells and once attached will remain connected for a longer period of time.

Tumor cells are very hard to see even under powerful magnification. In this breakthrough treatment surgeons will observe the cancer cells glowing in blue. The lighter the shade of blue the more concentrated the cancer cells are.

Although early pilot studies were performed using laboratory mice, this new technology has the potential to greatly help health-care professionals as well as patients, according to Achilefu. The goal is to make sure no cancer cell remains after surgery.

A study completed in England confirmed that one out of five breast cancer patients who have a lumpectomy did indeed require a second and sometimes third surgery to remove all the cancerous tissue. While some women were able to have a re-excision and conserve their breast, others needed a mastectomy in order to effectively remove the cancer.

This study was performed over a period of three years and included 55,297 women. The study found that patients were required to have additional surgery within three months of their initial lumpectomy. In women who had a diagnosis of in situ cancer, such as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or DCIS the odds for a re-operation were doubled.

New high-tech glasses developed in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Medicine may solve this critical problem with cancer surgery. The specs will reduce the need for follow-up surgery by giving surgeons the ability to find hard to see cancer cells during surgery.

By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)

Sources:

Belfast Telegraph
BMJ
The Australian

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