“Cancer Glasses” Help Surgeons See Tiny Tumors

Some people need them to see, others just to read, but a new pair of high-tech glasses could save your life.

“This is what we call cancer glasses,” said Suman Mondal, a graduate student of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

During surgical procedures to remove cancerous cells, surgeons often have to rely on the naked eye to spot and remove cancerous tumors or other masses. Unfortunately, cancerous tissue can sometimes look an awful lot like healthy tissue.

“Right now surgeons often miss cancer cells so these left behind tumors, they grow over time,” said Mondal.

According to a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in four breast cancer patients who have lumps removed need to have a second surgery to remove missed tumor cells.

The new glasses, developed by biomedical engineers at Washington University, use virtual reality to light up tiny tumor cells that may go undetected by the naked eye.

“It basically shows surgeons where exactly the tumor is. It allows them to directly visualize tumors while they’re doing the surgery,” said Mondal.

As Mondal explains, “We start by injecting the patient with this dye that goes in and accumulates in the tumor.”

Once the surgeon puts on the glasses,

“I cannot see through them. What I’m seeing is what the camera on the side is looking at and then sending that information to my eyes,” he said.

A white LED light allows the surgeon to see a normal image. A near-infrared light makes the dye in the cancer cells glow.

“Both these signals are captured by the camera here that sends the information to the waist pouch, which does the processing,” said Mondal.

The two images are superimposed.

“You’ll see the tumor as glowing and everything else is normal,” he said.

The glasses have been tested on people with breast and skin cancer and in animal studies with pancreatic and brain cancers.

—Marsha Lewis, Inside Science TV

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

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