MU Partners with Washington University for Study

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COLUMBIA - A research team at Washington University is partnering with MU's College of Veterinary Medicine to test new technology designed to help surgeons remove cancerous tumors with ease.  

A radiology professor at Washington University's Optical Laboratory is working with a team to develop the first ever cancer-detecting goggles. The goggles would make it possible to differentiate between normal and cancerous cells instantly.

"The idea came because of the need to make sure that when the surgeons are done with surgery, that there is a clean surgical margin, which is one of the biggest surgical problems today," Samuel Achilefu said. "Once surgery is done, the patient has to come back because some cancerous tissues were left behind."

Currently, doctors rely on MRIs and CT scans to detect cancer.

Achilefu and his team will test the goggles on human breast cancer patients. His team chose breast cancer patients because of the way the cancer spreads in the body.

"Clinicians and surgeons want to find that node, the place where the tumor drains, quickly and test whether it's positive or negative," he said.  

MU's vet school will test the goggles on dogs.

An MU associate professor of oncology in veterinary medicine and surgery said MU was approached to work on this project more than 18 months ago. Jeffrey Bryan said breast cancer appears the same way in humans as in dogs.

"In women and breast cancer, one of the challenges is being able to see exactly where the edges of the tumors are so you can do good breast conserving surgery," Bryan said. "This will allow the surgeon to really see the edges of the tumor and remove enough to tissue to remove the cancer, but not so much that it's disfiguring."

Bryan said MU will test the goggles on dogs for about one year before moving on to humans.

He said MRIs and CT scans are beneficial, but while constantly looking up at a screen and back at the patient, tissues can change while performing surgery.

"With the goggles, the tumor will literally glow in the field of vision and you can stay away from the glowing edge of the tumor and make sure you're cutting through normal tissue to remove every last bit of cancer," Bryan said.

Achilefu said the canines' bodies are not just stepping stones to humans' bodies, but a way to expand technological advances.

The goggles are still in the design process and one pair will be delivered to MU sometime early next year.

MU professor Dr. Tony Mann said Washington University is still working on slimming the design to ensure comfort for surgeons while wearing the goggles.

"It's good for the community to know that the tax dollars that are used to support research actually comes up with products of this nature that help not only human beings, but our companions," Achilefu said.

He said the funding for the research came from a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health.