Samuel Achilefu’s Groundbreaking Translational Work Wins the 2019 SPIE Britton Chance Award in Biomedical Optics

The award recognizes outstanding lifetime contributions to the field of biomedical optics through the development of innovative, high-impact technologies

03 February 2019

Samuel Achilefu wins 2019 SPIE Britton Chance Award

SPIE President Jim Oschmann, right, presents Samuel Achilefu with the SPIE 2019 Britton Chance Award in Biomedical Optics 

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA and CARDIFF, UK - On Saturday evening, at the BiOS Hot Topics session during Photonics West, SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, honored Samuel Achilefu with its 2019 Britton Chance Award in Biomedical Optics. The award recognizes the transformative advancements in optical and molecular imaging in Achilefu's research - work that has pushed the boundaries of cancer care and treatment - as well as the clinical translation of his technologies to improve patient care. During the same session, Achilefu gave the keynote address, "Power of Light to See and Treat Cancer."

Achilefu is the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; he also holds appointments there as a professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics. He serves as the vice chair for innovation and entrepreneurship at the university's Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, as chief of its Molecular Imaging Center, as director of the Center for Multiple Myeloma Nanotherapy, and as co-leader of the Oncologic Imaging Program at the Siteman Cancer Center, also at Washington University.

The Britton Chance Award is presented annually in recognition of outstanding lifetime contributions to the field of biomedical optics through the development of innovative, high-impact technologies. The award specifically honors pioneering contributions to optical methods and devices that have facilitated advancements in biology or medicine. Achilefu's "cancer-vision goggles," a head-mounted display that helps surgeons visualize cancer cells during surgeries, offers one such innovative example. The fluorescence goggle system, described in a 2013 paper published in SPIE's Journal of Biomedical Optics, incorporates a CMOS sensor and a see-through display that allows the physician to clearly see cancer cells that have been targeted with a molecular agent, making them glow.

The goggles grew out of Achilefu's research around molecular imaging methods, one area of central focus in his lab. More recently, Achilefu's group - a multidisciplinary team comprised of experts in chemistry, molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, physics, engineering, veterinary medicine, pathology, and immunology - discovered a paradigm-shifting contrast mechanism, dichromic near infrared (NIR) fluorescence, which can detect, monitor, and image molecular processes in cells and living organisms. The products of this research are now headed toward commercialization.

Although the Britton Chance Award is given for outstanding lifetime contributions, Achilefu still has a long career ahead of him. His research so far has been focused on improving methods to image and treat cancer, but his next interest is to prevent cancer altogether by developing point-of-care detection kits for use in high- and low-resource areas of the world.

This commitment to improving the global condition is exactly what the Britton Chance Award wishes to recognize. Lihong Wang, director of the Caltech Optical Imaging Laboratory, has known Achilefu for more than 15 years, dating from his years at Mallinckrodt Medical, Inc. in St. Louis, where Achilefu co-led the optical imaging project as a principal scientist. "Dr. Achilefu is an outstanding researcher, teacher, and role model with unparalleled academic and research accomplishments," says Wang. "He is most deserving of this award."

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