Geek Pick: DJI Osmo Action Is an Impressive Camera DebutHere’s What Happened When Scientists Strapped Cameras to Cats Stay on target The latest breakthrough in cancer research comes from … a butterfly?Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis developed a surgical camera inspired by the eye of the morpho butterfly.The bright blue insect’s eyes feature a specialized nanostructure that allows it to see multispectral images, including ultra-violet and near-infrared.Using an artificial version of those nanostructures, study leader Viktor Gruev built a camcorder to simultaneously register regular color and near-infrared signals in regular lighting conditions.“By looking at the way nature has designed the visual systems of insects, we can address serious problems that exist with cancer surgery today and make sure there are no cancer cells left behind during surgery,” Gruev, an Illinois professor of electrical and computer engineering, said in a statement.Some large hospitals and treatment centers may use experimental near-infrared fluorescent agents, but the costly, bulky machines require the dimming of lights to pick up weak signals—not an ideal environment during surgery.“Ninety-five percent of hospitals in the United States have small operating rooms. No matter how good the technology is, if it’s too big, it can’t enter the surgical suite,” according to Missael Garcia, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois. “It’s a very busy place during the surgery, so rolling in an instrument as big as a table just isn’t going to work.But Garcia and Gruev’s multispectral camera is.For ease of use, the tiny tool is integrated into a pair of surgical glasses—helping to protect the doctor’s view and project fluorescent information in real time.Gruev & Co. partnered with surgeons at Washington University to test their technology in mice and humans.By employing a common infrared-emitting green dye and the butterfly’s-eye glasses, physicians were more easily able to identify lymph nodes in a human with breast cancer.The morpho butterfly’s eye was used as model for a surgical probe that can more accurately find tumor margins (via L. Brian Stauffer/University of Illinois)“Our technology is much quicker [than the traditional hunt-and-peck method] because one of the advantages is imaging deeper in the tissue,” Gruev explained. “Sometimes when they’re looking for green coloration, they’re looking for a while because the nodes are below the surface. With the fluorescence, you can see through the skin or the tissue and identify them much quicker.”The specs are anticipated to cost about $200—less than $20,000 for the cheapest government-sanctioned instrument.“This technology is more sensitive, more accurate, much smaller, and lower-cost than currently available instruments that are FDA-approved to detect these signals,” Gruev boasted.Moving forward, the researchers are working to integrate their camera with endoscopic systems; they also filed for a patent on the butterfly’s-eye technology.Garcia and Gruev previously built a cancer-detecting camera, capable of sensing color and polarization by mimicking the eye of the mantis shrimp. Information collected with the tool has since been used to develop an underwater GPS system.
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