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New Glasses Help Surgeons 'See' Cancer [VIDEO]

Feb 11, 2014 12:10 PM EST
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Cancer cells glow blue. At least, they do when viewed through new eyewear developed at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, according to a release announcing the new technology.

The glasses, currently unnamed, were used during surgery for the first time on Monday, at Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Even under high powered magnification, cancer cells are difficult for doctors to detect. Worn during surgery, the new glasses are designed to help ensure that no cancer cell goes unnoticed.

"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, an associate professor of surgery at Washington University, who performed Monday's operation. "Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety."

Current protocol dictates that neighboring healthy cells are removed along with a cancer tumor. The healthy tissue is then screened for the presence of cancer, and a second operation is performed if necessary.

By increasing accuracy of the initial surgeries, the new glasses could reduce the need for these additional operations, saving time and money.

Margenthaler said about 20 to 25 percent of breast cancer patients who have lumps removed require a second surgery because of the limitations of current technology in removing cancerous cells.

"Our hope is that this new technology will reduce or ideally eliminate the need for a second surgery," she said.

The technology, developed by a team led by Samuel Achilefu, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University, incorporates custom video technology, a head-mounted display and a targeted molecular agent that attaches to cancer cells, making them glow when viewed with the glasses," according to a release announcing the findings.

A study published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics concluded that tumors as small as 1 mm in diameter could be detected by the glasses.

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