St. Louis, MO. These days, most of the headlines about “live streaming” will lead you down a path of debates over copyright infringement, piracy, and a slew of Meerkat vs Periscope opinions. But we recently noticed a story from Reuters about a breakthrough technology that brings a whole new meaning to the phrase and could mean better outcomes for people diagnosed with certain kinds of cancer.
Sandy Sagitto, a neurosurgery nurse from St. Louis, was one such person. Although she had no family history or risk factors, she was blind-sided with a breast cancer diagnosis. She was told that her best option would be surgery to remove the fast spreading cancer. Typically, in a lumpectomy surgery scenario like this where a part of the breast is removed, scans taken before the surgery serve to guide how much tissue needs to be removed and where. Often, an excess amount is taken as a precautionary measure, but even then, up to a quarter of the patients may need a repeat surgery to remove additional cancerous tissue.
Knowing her odds, and given her professional background, Sandy was open to participating in a clinical trial to test a new technology that gives surgeons the ability to see cancer cells “in real time” as they operate. Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a professor of radiology at Washington University, developed the system so that these sorts of procedures could be done with greater precision, thereby preserving more healthy tissue and only targeting the problem areas.
First, a special dye is injected. It seeks out only the abnormal cells and attaches itself. Next, a near infrared light is beamed onto the targeted area. The surgeon then performs the procedure wearing a pair of special glasses that make the cancerous cells glow, allowing them to be precisely removed while limiting collateral damage.
“The primary goal of the technology is to make sure that the surgeon does not operate in the blind, it’s to make the cancer cells light up like Christmas trees,” said Achilefu.
Right now the technology is just being tested on skin and breast cancer patients, but Dr. Achilefu, hopes the technique could be applied more broadly over time. This unique synthesis of biology, chemistry, and technology could be a powerful addition to the growing arsenal within oncology.