In the era where the eyewear possibilities are becoming increasingly innovative, there are now high-tech goggles that give doctors an almost superhuman ability in cancer vision.
The high-tech goggles are currently in the experimental phase, but the goal is for the glasses to help doctors see the difference between microscopic cancer cells and healthy cells. How does it do this? It turns the cancerous cells blue.
The goggles were used for the first time Monday by surgeon Dr. Julie Margenthaler of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, who specializes in breast surgery and breast health/oncology. She used the glasses that were developed by Washington University on a lymph node surgery and said that it was lighting up well.
Margenthaler said that they are still early in the development of the product, but that the benefit it could serve to patients is a strong motivator. If surgeons had the ability to see all the cancerous cells, it could help keep the number of cancer-related surgeries down. Margenthaler imagines a scenario where follow-up surgery is not needed because “these glasses eliminated the need” and with it the trauma associated with multiple surgeries is simultaneously removed. Breast cancer patients have approximately a 20 to 25 percent chance of undergoing an additional surgery after the initial operation because surgeons cannot always distinguish the malignant cells with the naked eye.
The research includes testing the eyewear on 20 to 30 patients with melanoma and breast cancer. The doctors will use the high-tech goggles to hopefully gain a superhuman-like cancer vision as they find the patient’s lymph nodes that will be screened for cancer.
Professor of radiology and biomedical engineering Samuel Achilefu came up with the idea of night vision goggle technology being transferred into a medical role after surgeons and biomedical engineers discussed the problems of identifying malignant cells during surgery. Achilefu said the purpose is to simplify the entire imaging and surgical processes. He also said that since the goggles give you “real time” that it could help surgeons make “immediate medical decisions.” The technology should also give more information about exact size, location and health of surrounding cells, which is crucial in extracting as many cancer cells as possible.
Achilefu and his team have been working on the development of this technology for multiple years and will continue to adapt the goggles as time goes on. The team is also working on a dye that finds cancer cells and makes them glow in combination with the goggles, but it is not yet approved for human testing. In mice, the dye was able to find tiny tumors with a one-millimeter diameter.
Achilefu hopes that the goggles can someday be used as a teaching tool. He wants the ability to have the surgeon’s goggle vision projected in classrooms or to have remotely-located surgeons project their goggle vision to another surgeon for help. Achilefu has filed a patent for the high-tech goggles that give doctors superhuman cancer vision in the hopes that “no cancer is left behind.”
By Rebecca Hofland