Electrical and computer engineering professor Viktor Gruev led a study to observe how the camera, inspired by the mantis shrimp, works with tumor-targeted drugs to see cancer in animal and human patients, according to a report on the university’s website. The researchers published the study in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“The mantis shrimp has these incredible eyes,” Steven Blair, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student and the lead author of the study, said in the report. “Humans perceive three colors – red, green and blue – because of a single layer of light-sensitive cone cells that line our retina, but the mantis shrimp perceives upward of 12 colors thanks to the stacks of light-sensitive cells at the tip of its eye. The mantis shrimp’s little eyes can thus see things that humans can’t imagine – and do so in a fraction of the space.”
The researchers integrated advanced semiconductor devices and specialized optical filters to create technology that can capture the three colors of visible light normally seen by a doctor, along with three colors of invisible near-infrared light that the doctor would miss. Capabilities include pairing with multiple tumor-targeted probes to accumulate cancerous tissue and emit near-infrared light, allowing the doctor to see exactly where tumors are located in a patient.
“Engineers spend incredible amounts of time and money developing the image sensors in cellphones,” Gruev said. “When we are out on the town, these devices can capture pictures that are perfect for social media, but when doctors are examining patients, they don’t care how nice the shot looks – they care how well the picture captures reality. The driving force in the camera market is simply incompatible with the technology required for medical diagnostics.”
The researchers say they plan to integrate the camera with endoscopic systems to aid in minimally invasive surgeries performed in resource-limited hospitals.
Support for the research came from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.