Nigerian scientist Samuel Achilefu wins award for developing cancer-visualising glasses

A Nigerian-born scientist, Dr. Samuel Achilefu, has won the prestigious St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-visualizing glasses.
Achilefu, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and his team developed the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into a wearable night vision-like goggles so surgeons could see the cancer cells while operating.
“They basically have to operate in the dark,” Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Achilefu, 52, as saying.

“I thought, what if we create something that let’s you see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye.”
Achilefu won a scholarship from the French government to study at the University of Nancy, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a regional newspaper in St. Louis, U.S., and is the 87th person to receive the annual award since it was established in 1931.

Achilefu counts 27 surgeries where his technology has been worn by doctors operating on patients with breast cancer, liver cancer and melanoma. An injected dye reacts with infrared light to make cancerous tissue light up, helping surgeons locate the tumor and separate it from healthy tissue.

He said he hopes the device becomes a cheaper, easier way for doctors to "see" tumors here and in the developing world. Because the goggles also project the surgeon’s view onto a computer screen, they could be adapted for use as a teaching tool.

Achilefu said the idea for the goggles was borrowed from other medical disciplines and born out of a need to reduce the number of instruments in a surgery room.
"Ophthalmologists use glasses. Neurosurgeons do the same thing, but with large microscopes,” Achilefu said. “The idea was what is the simplest device to create that is easy to use but still effective.”
Developing the goggles became a three year collaboration between radiologists, optical and sensory engineers, and surgeons — a fitting development for the same radiology institute that invented the PET scan.

The St. Louis Award is given each year to honor a resident who has made an "outstanding contribution" to the community. Achilefu accepted his during a ceremony Wednesday evening in St. Louis.

Credit: Nigerian Guardian/St.Louis Public Radio