High-tech goggles allow surgeons to ‘see’ cancerous tissue

A new type of goggle currently under development in the USA has the potential to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and intrusive surgery are currently the only treatments available to doctors and surgeons when combatting cancer, which affects approximately one in every three people in some form. Removing cancerous tissue by surgical means is particularly challenging, as the difference between healthy tissue and tumorous tissue is often difficult, if not impossible, to perceive. This can often lead to cancerous cells being left behind in the body, often resulting in further bouts of surgery.

The new ‘high-tech goggles’, currently being tested at pilot stage by scientists in the USA,  could potentially be an answer to the challenges posed by detecting cancerous tissue. The goggles allow surgeons to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy tissue, by causing cancerous cells to ‘glow’. Scientists hope that the goggles will enable surgeons to remove all the affected tissue in a single surgery, leaving no part of the tumour behind.

Dr Ryan Fields, a surgeon at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said: “The technology is quite amazing – almost like having a microscope to guide your surgery in the operating room.”

Just how do the goggles work? In fact, the goggles are not the only thing to play a role in this incredible technology. Before undergoing surgery, the patient is injected with a type of dye, containing a small protein called peptide. This protein has a unique quality, in that it is able to seek out and bind to cancer cells – and cancer cells only – effectively ‘dying’ them.

These ‘dyed’ cells emit light: a specific speed of light that is imperceptible to humans. The goggles are designed to overcome this problem, by using a sensor, which  The dyed cancer cells emit light at a wavelength that cannot be seen by the human eye, but can be detected by a sensor in the goggles worn by the surgeons.

“The sensor captures the fluorescence from the dye lodged in cancer tissue and projects the image into the surgeon’s [field of] view,” explained a doctor working on the development of the dye and goggle technology.  “This creates an augmented reality that allows the surgeons to see cancer cells glowing, providing real-time guidance during surgery.

Whilst the goggles are still in their prototype form, scientists and surgeons alike have strong hope in their potential to reduce the number of secondary surgeries in cancer-related cases. Indeed, it is thought that up to 40 per cent of breast cancer patients in the USA require secondary follow-up surgeries to remove cancerous tissue left behind in the first operation.

“It has the potential to reduce the size of operations, when safe, and guide us to take out more tissue, when required,” said Dr Fields.

However, the goggles will require much larger trials to prove their reliability before they can be considered for routine use.


Sources include: BBC News, The Week


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