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These glasses help surgeons spot cancer

Posting in Technology

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As designer Sabine Seymour told SmartPlanet recently, the future of wearable technology is "all about creating the superhuman." Of course, the ultimate superhuman would be free of cancer. 

We're obviously nowhere near that reality yet as cancer is still one of the leading causes of death worldwide. But, one surgery later, we're a little bit closer. 

That's because, for the first time, a surgeon has used special glasses to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells in a patient during surgery to remove cancer cells. Samuel Achilefu, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, developed technology that causes cancer cells as small as one millimeter in diameter to glow blue when viewed through the glasses. 

"We’re in the early stages of this technology, and more development and testing will be done, but we’re certainly encouraged by the potential benefits to patients," said breast surgeon Julie Margenthaler, who performed the first operation with the glasses, in a press release. "Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience and anxiety."

That's the key here. It's not going to stop cancer, but the glasses can at least make the treatment process a little more effective and efficient. 

As Washington University explains, cancer cells are "notoriously difficult to see." Because of that, breast cancer patients who need lumps removed, for example, need a second surgery about 20 to 25 percent of the time.

While it's not clear if wearable technology products will become ubiquitous consumer products like smartphones and other devices, it is clear that they are beginning to have an impact on the healthcare industry. In 2012, wearable medical devices (e.g. activity monitors, heart rate monitors) were a $2 billion market. That is expected to grow to nearly $6 billion by 2019.

Here are a few other applications for wearable tech devices with a health focus to keep an eye on:


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— By on February 11, 2014, 10:34 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure