Samuel Achilefu, Igbo-born professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, has received the prominent St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-seeing technology.
The scientist and his team created the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into a wearable night vision-like glasses so doctors could see the cancer cells while operating, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.
Achilefu, who is 53, in his acceptance speech said: “They basically have to operate in the dark”.
“I thought, what if we create something that let’s you see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye.”
“Our efforts start with two words: ‘What if? These words may sound simple, but they embody the belief that each person has the potential to make a difference, if only he or she can take the time to understand the problem.”
Before surgery, imaging tests involving big, high-tech machines can create detailed pictures of a person’s cancer, Achilefu said: “but when a patient is in the operating room, it’s like walking in the dark.”
Four patients suffering from breast cancer and over two dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the high-tech glasses they were created.
“The goggles function fantastically,” says Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist.
“They allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not yet been FDA-approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light.”
Achilefu and his team began work in 2012 after they got $2.8 million scholarship from the National Institutes of Health.
“Nobody would believe us until we showed that the goggles work,” Nigerian-born scientist says.
Award committee president David Kemper, chairman and of Commerce Bancshares Inc., hailed Achilefu for “putting St. Louis in the spotlight for advancements in optical imaging technology that have pushed the boundaries of cancer treatment.”
Achilefu is the 87th person to receive the annual award since it was established in1931 by prominent philanthropist David P. Wohl.
The shoe company owner incognito founded the award to recognize a St. Louis area resident who “performed such a service as to bring greatest honor to the community.”