Dr. Samuel Achilefu gained international recognition after his medical research as a radiologist made a breakthrough in cancer surgery by creating high-tech infrared goggles. Dr. Achilefu’s invention helps surgeons locate the cancer cells and reduce the need for additional surgical procedures for cancer patients. The Nigerian and his medical team spent five years, conducting research with this night vision-like goggles to aid doctors in differentiating between malignant cells and normal cells during cancer surgery. Achilefu and his team could only achieve this feat by making cancer cells glow by first injecting cancer patients with an infrared fluorescent marker which is picked up by the goggles.
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Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death and was responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Owing to the fact that there is still no cure for cancer, the best form of treatment is surgery. Achilefu’s invention is a radical improvement in the diagnosis and removal of cancer. With his innovation popular as ‘’cancer goggles,’’ surgeons now find it easy to see cancerous cells during surgery. While speaking on the motivation behind the invention of cancer goggles, Achilefu noted that the difficulty associated with removing cancer tumors during surgery was his driving force.
I thought, what if we create something that lets one see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye…?Dr. Samuel Achilefu
The Nigerian’s achievement has been used successfully in over 27 surgical operations inclusive of liver, skin, and breast cancer patients.
My final goal is really to make it a routine system that we can use in all hospitals….For brain surgery for example, where you do not have the luxury of taking a lot of tissue, and you have to be highly specific. In that particular case, these goggles would be a lifesaver. The goal is to be able to detect very small cells but the current imaging systems are not capable of doing thatAchilefu
Born in the year 1963, in northern Nigeria, young Achilefu moved to the southeast region of Nigeria because of the Nigerian civil war at the age of five. He would complete his primary and secondary school education in the southeast before moving to France to further his studies after getting a French scholarship to attend graduate school. While studying abroad, Achilefu earned a PhD in molecular and materials chemistry at the University of Nancy, and also had his post-doctoral studies in the prestigious Oxford University in the United Kingdom, with extensive training on the “interface between chemistry and haematology, working on developing blood substitutes”. He would go on to join numerous research industries and laboratories in the course of his studies and career as a radiologist.
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The father of two is a scientist and medical researcher who has equally pioneered fundamental and applied research in science, engineering and medicine. Dr. Achilefu is presently the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology and Vice Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine. Currently serving as the Director of the Washington University Molecular Imaging Center, and the privately funded Theranostic Innovation Program, the renowned radiologist also holds joint appointment as professor of Medicine, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, and Biomedical Engineering, amongst other numerous positions he occupies.
Dr. Achilefu is recipient to over 30 awards, some of which includes:
- Becoming the first recipient of the Breast Cancer Research Programme Distinguished Investigator Award in 2016
- The Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award in 2018 (Washington University) Excellence in Healthcare Award in 2017 (St. Louis American)
- The prestigious Britton Chance Biomedical Optics Award in 2019 at SPIE
- The first Department of Defense Distinguished Investigator Award in 2016 (DoD Breast Cancer Research Program)
- Distinguished Investigator Award in 2018 (Academy for Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Research)
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