High-tech Glasses Help Surgeons Visualize Cancer Cells

Breast surgeon Julie Margenthaler, MD, used the high-tech glasses on February 10 this year to remove a lymph node from a patient. Cancer cells are notoriously difficult to see, even under high-powered magnification, and surgeons must often remove neighboring tissue that may not include cancer cells. Using the new wearable technology could reduce the need for additional surgical procedures and alleviate subsequent patient stress.

“Imagine what that would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety,” says Margenthaler, an associate professor of surgery at Washington University.

For a look at what Dr. Margenthaler saw while wearing the glasses during surgery, click here. The technology was developed by a team lead by Samuel Achilefu, PhD, professor of radiology and of biomedical engineering at Washington University.

In a study published by the Journal of Biomedical Optics, researchers noted that tumors as small as 1mm in diameter (the thickness of about 10 sheets of paper) could be detected.

Ryan Fields, MD, a Washington University assistant professor of surgery and Siteman surgeon, plans to wear the glasses this year to remove a melanoma from a patient. “A limitation of surgery is that it’s not always clear to the naked eye the distinction between normal tissue and cancerous tissue, said Fields. “With the glasses developed by Dr. Achilefu, we can better identify the tissue that must be removed.”

Margenthaler cautions that the technology is in its early stages and further testing and development must be done. She adds that the results thus far are encouraging.