Nigerian scientist wins award for developing cancer-visualising glasses

Achilefu

A NIGERIAN-born scientist, Dr. Samuel Achilefu, has won the prestigious St. Louis Award for 2014 for creating cancer-visualizing glasses.

Achilefu, a professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, and his team developed the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into a wearable night vision-like goggles so surgeons could see the cancer cells while operating.

They basically have to operate in the dark,” Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Achilefu, 52, as saying.

“I thought, what if we create something that let’s you see things that aren’t available to the ordinary human eye.”

Achilefu won a scholarship from the French government to study at the University of Nancy, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a regional newspaper in St. Louis, U.S., and is the 87th person to receive the annual award since it was established in 1931.

Meanwhile, a Nigerian woman based in the United Kingdom, Nina Ndubuisi has invented a lifestyle programme that has successfully cut back excess weight in women and children in Nigeria, Canada, and elsewhere, raising hopes of containment of obesity especially among the rich.

Ndubuisi, who is a paramedic, while speaking in Abuja at the inauguration of ‘Slim With Ease,’ a global forum for reaching out to those affected by excess weight, stressed that her unique formula in cutting unwanted weight thrives on healthy lifestyle and determination.

Addressing hundreds of women and children, mostly those affected by excess weight gain, Nina said her priority is to help Nigerian women, children and men curb excess weight gain, noting that her goal is to eradicate obesity from the childhood of African children as well as other races around the world. Her programme, which has impacted women in Canada, UK and a number of African countries, has huge following on social media.

“Slim With Ease is not a revolutionary weight loss program that is sweeping across not just Nigeria but the whole world right now. It was inspired by my weight loss of 60kg in two years. I use to be very fat. People used to call me names on the street. People mocked me and I was determined to find a solution to my weight problem.

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has blamed childhood obesity, especially in developing countries, on the marketing of sugar-rich non-alcoholic beverages and ultra-processed, energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

Director-General Margaret Chan yesterday told the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity meeting in Hong Kong that “childhood obesity can erode the benefits that arrive with social and economic progress.’’

She said that childhood obesity must be accepted as a significant and urgent threat to health that was relevant in all countries.

Chan said that governments must take the lead and now was the time to safeguard the future of every child.

She commended the interim report on the work carried out thus far by the commission and commended the group.

Chan warned that voluntary initiatives were not likely to be sufficient. “To be successful, efforts aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages need support from regulatory and statutory approaches. Perhaps most importantly, you defined a moral responsibility and stated where it must lie.

“None of the factors that cause obesity are under the control of the child,” she said.

Chan said that the number of overweight or obese infants and young children increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 42 million in 2013.

Chan said in Africa alone, the number of overweight or obese children increased from 4 to 9 million over the same period.

Married with two young children, Achilefu moved to St. Louis after he was hired by Mallinckrodt to start a new research department.

“Our efforts start with two words: ‘What if?’” Achilefu said during his acceptance speech.

“These words may sound simple, but they embody the belief that each person has the potential to make a difference, if only he or she can take the time to understand the problem.”

According to Bloomberg, the researchers’ technology requires two steps: First, surgeons inject a tiny quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient’s bloodstream. The peptides contained in the marker enable it to locate cancer cells and buries itself inside.

After the tracer flows through a patient’s body and clears from non-cancerous tissue – which lasts about four hours – the operation would begin. Wearing the goggle, the doctor can inspect tumours under an infrared light that reacts with the dye, causing cancer cells to glow from within.

This month, the goggles have been used on humans for the first time by surgeons at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Four patients suffering from breast cancer and over two dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles since they were developed.

“The goggles function fantastically,” says Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist who is collaborating with Achilefu to improve on the technology.

“They allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not yet been FDA-approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light.”

Julie Margenthaler, a breast cancer surgeon, says tens of thousands of women who had had breast cancer lumpectomies go back for second operations every year because of the inability to see the microscopic extent of the tumours.

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Iheanyi Igboko is a social advocate, educator and journalist/blogger; working actively in the education and human development sector. He is passionate about promoting access to quality education, increasing youth active participation and engagement, and empowering young people to develop solutions to their problems. He craves unending hopes of a better Nigeria that will meet the hopes and aspirations of her citizens; and committed to building a nation that will seamlessly harness and develop her numerous human and capital potentials.

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