High-tech glasses enable surgeons to visualize cancer cells

Surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis this week used new glasses that enabled them to visualize and distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells, according to the school.

The technology--developed by Samuel Achilefu, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University, and fellow colleagues--uses "custom video technology [and] a head-mounted display."  A "targeted molecular agent" sticks to the cancer cells, causing them glow through the glasses. 

"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, a Washington University assistant professor of surgery who plans to wear the glasses this month, said in a statement. "With the glasses … we can better identify tissue that must be removed."

Julie Margenthaler, an associate professor of surgery at Washington University who performed the operation, said the hope is that the glasses will reduce or eliminate the need for secondary procedures.

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

The other big technology-powered eyewear currently being used by surgeons, of course, is Google Glass. While in the eyes of some healthcare professionals, the technology holds promise as an innovative and effective tool in the OR, to others, its privacy disaster potential looms large; Glass, so far, has been used more as a means to enable real-time remote consulting during live operations.

In other cancer detection news, the use of a SFRP2-molecularly targeted contrast agent with ultrasound could provide physicians with a less expensive and radiation free-alternative for detecting and monitoring cancer compared to modalities such as X-ray, CT and MRI, according to research out of the University of North Carolina. With the technique, described in an article in PLOS ONE, researchers led by Nancy Klauber-DeMore, M.D., were able to use the imaging technique to visualize lesions created by angiosarcoma, a cancer that develops on the walls of blood vessels.

To learn more:
- read the Washington University post

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