Surgeon Julie Margenthaler were the first to use the glasses that makes cancer glow blue. Inset: A still image from a video of the lymph node removal, as seen by Margenthaler as she wore the eyewear. Credit: Robert Boston/Courtesy of Washington University School of Medicine.

These newly developed high-tech glasses make cancer cells glow blue and were used for the first time during surgery last week.

Normally, the surgeon cannot differentiate cancer cells from ordinary cells since these do not look any different to the naked eye – even under high-powered magnification.

For this reason, the surgeon usually removes extra tissue around the tumor/s, later sent for analysis. These newly developed glasses, however, increase the precision for the surgeons, making it much easier to differentiate what to remove and what not to remove.

The glasses were developed by Samuel Achilefy and his colleagues at the Washington University. They function via detecting a certain fluorescent agent that only attach to cancer cells. This agent causes the cancer cells to glow blue when viewed through the glasses. Also seen on a monitor as a video camera is mounted on the glasses, making everyone in the room see what the surgeon sees.

They were used for the first time last week when doctor Julie Margenthaler wore them during a breast cancer surgery at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, USA.

Thaler comments the glasses in a University press release, “Our hope is that technology will reduce or perhaps eliminate the need for a second operation”.

Second operations are otherwise very common according to Thaler. One in five patient must undergo a second operation since the surgeons were unable to remove all of the cancer at first attempt.

The video to the right shows how the fluorescent marker that has been injected into the patient made the cancer cells glow blue when viewed with the technology. The lighter the shade of blue, the more concentrated the cancer cells are.

The glasses will be used again later this February when surgeons are to remove the malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

The development of the glasses has been made possible with financial support from the U.S. National Cancer Institute.