Nigerian, Samuel Achilefu, wins award for developing cancer-visualising glasses

lung cancerA NIGERIAN-born scientist, Dr. Samuel Achilefu, has won the prestigious St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-visualising glasses.

Achilefu, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and his team developed the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into a wearable night vision-like goggles so that surgeons could see the cancer cells while operating.

“They basically have to operate in the dark,” Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Achilefu, 52, as saying.

According to Bloomberg, the researchers’ technology requires two steps: First, surgeons inject a tiny quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient’s bloodstream. The peptides contained in the marker enable it to locate cancer cells and buries itself inside.

After the tracer flows through a patient’s body and clears from non-cancerous tissue – which lasts about four hours – the operation would begin. Wearing the goggle, the doctor can inspect tumours under an infrared light that reacts with the dye, causing cancer cells to glow from within.

This month, the goggles have been used on humans for the first time by surgeons at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Four patients suffering from breast cancer and over two dozens patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles since they were developed.

A surgical oncologist, who is collaborating with Achilefu to improve on the technology, Ryan Fields, said: “The goggles function fantastically. They allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not yet been FDA-approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light.”

Achilefu, who says he intends to keep Washington University as the primary centre for clinical trials to evaluate the technology in patients, said: “Making a difference in society should be the goal of everybody.”

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