Credit: [Credit: S. Blair et al., Science Translational Medicine (2021)]

Inspired by the powerful eyes of the mantis shrimp, scientists have designed an imaging system that can distinguish between cancerous and healthy tissues during cancer surgery. The system accurately labeled tumors in mice and visualized lymph nodes near tumors in 18 patients undergoing surgery for breast cancer. With further development, the camera could help surgeons remove the marginal tumor tissues that can remain after unguided surgery, potentially lowering the risk of cancer relapse. It is critical for surgeons to remove as much tumor tissue as possible during surgery, but anywhere from 25% to 40% of patients still undergo incomplete tumor surgery for malignancies such as head and neck cancer. Digital cameras can help highlight cancerous tissue when combined with fluorescent molecules, but previous fluorescent imaging systems have not been widely adopted. Steven Blair and colleagues blended technology and nature in a fluorescent platform inspired by the mantis shrimp, a marine crustacean with highly complex eyes that provide information at a density unmatched by any human-made spectral camera. To mimic the mantis shrimp eye, Blair et al. vertically stacked layers of silicon photodetectors and spectral filters into a single-chip system platform, which can detect multiple colors and near-infrared light through 6 channels. The sensor successfully detected two fluorescent molecules in human prostate tumors in mice and distinguished cancerous tissue from healthy tissue in 92% of cases. The team also used their camera in the operating room to visualize 18 patients with breast cancer, where it allowed surgeons to accurately map out lymph nodes close to tumors. The researchers note their system’s compact nature and low weight allow it to be integrated seamlessly into the operating room without slowing down a surgeon’s workflow.


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