Dr. Samuel Achilefu is a Nigerian Professor and Radiologist who is being celebrated for his breakthrough in cancer treatment which came by way of his invention of high-tech infrared goggles that spots cancer cells during surgery.
The goggles help surgeons to ensure that no stray tumor cells, which glow blue when viewed through the eyewear, are left behind.
The 58-year-old scientist was born in northern Nigeria. He moved to the south-east with his family when he was about five years old because of the civil war.
There, young Achilefu had his primary and secondary education until he won a French government scholarship to attend graduate school in France.
While studying abroad, he received a PhD in molecular and materials chemistry at the University of Nancy. He had his post-doctoral studies at Oxford University, training on the “interface between chemistry and haematology, working on developing blood substitutes”.
Before his creation, doctors found it difficult to completely remove cancer tumours during surgery.
This is why the Professor of Radiology, Biomedical Engineering, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biophysics was inspired to make these glasses.
“I thought, what if we create something that lets one see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye…?” he stated during an award acceptance speech at the Eric P. Newman Education Centre in St Louis.
Achilefu and his team spent five years this wearable night vision-like goggles to help doctors differentiate between malignant cells and normal cells during surgery.
This was done by making cancer cells glow by first injecting the patient with an infrared fluorescent marker which is picked up by the goggles.
“A limitation of surgery is that it’s not always clear to the naked eye the distinction between normal tissue and cancerous tissue. With the glasses developed by Dr Achilefu, we can better identify the tissue that must be removed,” said Ryan Fields, MD, an assistant professor of surgery.
Achifelu’s cancer-seeing goggles have been used successfully in over 27 operations involving skin, liver and breast cancer patients.