A new set of high-tech glasses could help surgeons find and remove cancerous cells during surgery. Developed by Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University, the heads up display works in conjunction with a special dye injected into the patient and make cancerous cells glow blue. While wearing the glasses, the doctor can see which cells are cancerous and which are not, which helps them cut out the bad cells, keep the good ones and minimize the need for another surgery.

Achilefu and his team have been working on this technique called optical projection of acquired luminescence (OPAL). Test studies in lab mice allowed the team to work on the technique, which they are now advancing for humans. A targeted molecular agent is injected into the patient’s tumor, and under a special light, the cancerous cells will glow. At first, the glowing could only be seen through a monitor, but now Achilefu and his team routed that information into a pair of glasses. When the surgeon looks at the tumor through the glasses, the cancer cells glow blue. The lighter the shade of blue, the more concentrated the cells are.

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On February 10th, 2014, the first surgery took place while utilizing these glasses. While not yet named, the glasses aided, breast surgeon Julie Margenthaler, MD, in seeing her patient’s tumor. “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,” said breast surgeon Julie Margenthaler, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Washington University, who performed today’s operation. “Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety.”

These glasses will allow surgeons to clearly see which cells are cancerous and which aren’t. Currently, surgeons must cut away more good tissue than necessary in order to get all of the cancerous cells. They may even have to go back in for a repeat surgery if they did not get everything out. These glasses would allow the surgeons to cut away more bad and keep more good, reduce repeat surgeries, stress on the patient, speed along their recovery, as well as reduce money and time spent on procedures.

+ Press Release

+ Washington University in St. Louis