Butterfly Eyes Inspired Camera Detects Cancer Cells during Surgery


The new camera helps surgeon to remove all cancerous cells without damaging healthy tissue, reducing the need for multiple surgeries

Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis have developed a camera mimicking visual system of a butterfly. The camera provides conventional color image and near-infrared image with fluorescently labeled cancerous cells visibility under bright surgical lighting conditions. The camera can be manufactured for around US$ 20. According to the researchers, the bioinspired imager can effectively remove various type of cancer such as melanomas, prostate, head, and neck cancer. The camera is small in size and it can be easily integrated into an endoscope during a colonoscopy.

Prototypes of the device is successfully examined for surgery on mice and to remove breast cancer in humans without taking extra tissue. The design uniquely solves the sensitivity problem by allowing each pixel to take in the number of photons needed to build up an image. It creates the visual-wavelength in real-time for viewing the anatomy since the visible illumination in the lab is high. However, due to low fluorescence, it takes longer to collect a sufficient number of photons to build up a sufficiently bright image. By changing the exposure time to allow each pixel to detect the photons it needs, a bright fluorescence image can be created without overexposing the color image of the tissue.

The device also demonstrated versatility by making a dye used to identify lymph nodes for biopsies to glow in the same infrared frequencies. The technique not only enabled the surgeons to find the lymph nodes more quickly but in two patients, it located nodes the surgeons would otherwise have missed. The researchers are working on Start-up Company to commercialize the imager and are also working with the FDA to design a clinical trial in which the surgeons can compare clinical decisions made with the new imager with those that would be made with FDA-approved imagers.