Visualizing Cancer Cells With the Help of High-tech Eyewear

Tony Berberabe, MPH @OncBiz_Wiz
Published: Monday, Feb 17, 2014

High-tech eyewearHigh-tech eyewear could soon help surgeons remove tumors from patients with breast cancer or melanoma. The eyewear, similar to Google Glass, allows surgeons to see the margins of tumors more accurately when a dye is used to fluoresce a tumor’s borders. The eyeglasses are undergoing testing at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“The technology will hopefully reduce the need for further treatments and procedures, and lessen patient morbidity,” said Ryan Fields, MD, an assistant professor of Surgery at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Fields, a surgical oncologist and co-clinical investigator on the eyewear, said that the eyeglasses are designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. Standard of care procedures require surgeons to remove the tumor and some neighboring tissue that may or may not include cancer cells. A sample is sent to the pathology laboratory and viewed under a microscope. If the neighboring tissue is found to contain cancer cells, a second surgery is often performed, and more tissue is removed and checked for the presence of cancer.

Julie Margenthaler, MD, an associate professor of Surgery at Washington University used the eyeglasses for the first time when she performed surgery on a cancer patient. In a news release issued after the surgery, she said, “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.”

The glasses could reduce the need for additional surgical procedures and subsequent stress on patients, as well as time and expense. “Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience, and anxiety,” said Margenthaler, who is a co-clinical investigator along with Fields.

The eyeglasses are the latest advance in wearable technology, which began in the 1980s with the calculator watch, and is now becoming more prevalent. The technology has found a foothold in athletics to provide monitoring and real time feedback to athletes and coaches to improve performance.

Developed by Samuel Achilefu, PhD, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering at Washington University, the eyewear incorporates custom video technology, a head-mounted display, and a targeted molecular agent that attaches to cancer cells, making them glow when viewed while wearing the glasses.

Because the eyeglasses will not come into contact with patients during the surgical procedure, it does not require FDA approval. However, the fluorescent agent is now with the FDA and is undergoing regulatory review said Fields.

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