Nigerian-Born Scientist Revolutionizes Cancer Research


Nigerian-born scientist Dr. Samuel Achilefu revolutionized cancer research and study by creating the first pair of cancer-visualizing goggles.

Today is World Cancer Day, a global event dedicated in the fight against cancer, that aims at raising awareness and education about the disease, and encouraging people across the world to take action against cancer.

Dr. Achilefu, a professor of radiology and bio-medical engineering, and his team developed the imaging technology in cancer diagnosis into wearable night vision-like goggles so surgeons could see cancer cells while operating.

The 52-year-old scientist wanted to create something that was visible to the human eye.

Previously, doctors treating cancer had two main approaches – bombard the tumor with drugs and radiotherapy or cut it out.

The second option is very common but not always successful – because it is often also impossible to tell where the tumor ends and healthy tissue begins. To try to combat this surgeons often remove tissue surrounding the tumor, but cancerous cells often remain, necessitating further surgery.

But the new goggle technology developed in the US lets surgeons “see” which cells are cancerous and which are healthy, increasing the chances that they will be able remove all cancer cells in one operation.


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 enables 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 – an operation can begin. Wearing the goggles, surgeons can inspect tumors under an infra-red light that reacts with the dye, causing cancer cells to glow from within.

The cancer doctor received his PhD in molecular physical and materials chemistry at the University of Nancy, France, where he attended on a French government scholarship, and received postdoctoral training in oxygen transport mechanisms.

Dr. Achilefu lives in St. Louis Missouri with his wife and two children, he currently serves as a Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine and heads a research development lab.

It was an inscription his father left on the wall of their home when Dr. Achilefu was only five-years-old that spurred him to achieve great heights: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. But when name is lost, everything is lost“.

According to Dr. Achilefu, this meant to him that “one should be above reproach, that a good name trumps ill-gotten wealth. It set a moral standard that we should follow in life”.

The doctor will be considered among the pioneers in the field of cancer research for years to come.