Samuel Achilefu (PhD) (54) and his team figured out a way to use ultraviolet (UV) light, unseen to the naked eye and an illuminating agent to identify cancer cells from normal, healthy cells by using his invention, “cancer goggles.” The eyewear helps surgeons distinguish the cancer cells in need of removal from the patient’s healthy cells. The team used a mouse model of cancer to devise a way to apply light-based therapy, called stimulated intracellular light therapy (SILT), to deep tissues never before accessible.
“I want to play a role in eradicating cancer or making it a manageable disease. Toward this goal, we have developed a new approach to kill cancer cells, independent of the cancer type,” he told The Cable earlier this year.
Achilefu became the first recipient of the Breast Cancer Research Program Distinguished Investigator Award, from the U.S. Department of Defense- a $4.5 million grant.
He is the chief of the optical radiology laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine.
This is a profile of Achilefu in which he explains more on his research.
This UV light together with a photosensitive chemotherapy drug and the body’s immune system target and obliterate cancer cells , particularly breast cancer cells. The Washington University reported in 2015 that Achilefu’s eyewear is designed to make it easier for surgeons to distinguish malignant cells from healthy cells, helping to ensure that no stray tumor cells are left behind during surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The purpose was to reduce the need for additional surgical procedures and the subsequent stress on patients, as well as the time and expense usually incurred by cancer patients.
He earned a PhD in molecular physical and materials chemistry at the University of Nancy in France and did his postdoctoral training in oxygen transport mechanisms at Oxford University in the United Kingdom where he trained on the interface between chemistry and hematology, working on developing blood substitutes. Achilefu then went to St. Louis to work for Mallinckrodt Medical and joined the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in 2001.
By April 2017, the goggles had slimmed down to become eyeglasses, with transparent data screens in the lenses.
He is quoted in The St Loius American saying: “Now you can see through it. You can see the patient directly, like nothing is there, and we now include the cancer cells inside – it’s in the glasses,” Achilefu said. “The screen does not block your vision at all, but it is projecting the cancer cells in that screen.”
The technology has already been used successfully on patients to ensure no stray tumor cells remain after surgery. In January 2015 Achilefu received the St. Louis Award at the Eric P. Newman Education Center. The honor, awarded almost every year since 1932, recognizes area residents whose achievements reflect positively on the community.
His desire is not only to develop affordable means to cure cancer using equipment that costs less than $10,000 instead of millions so many clinics can afford to use it but also to develop young people to develop their capabilities.
With breast cancer being the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed world with more women dying from it in the developing world, this affordable technology will go a long way in saving lives across the continent and improving the standards of living for African women.