Illinois researchers with a prototype image-guided surgical system (standing third from left is Professor Viktor Gruev and fourth from left is Professor Shuming Nie).   

Urbana, Ill. An innovative camera technology, inspired by the mantis shrimp’s visual system, has the potential to transform intraoperative surgical procedures for cancer patients, allowing clinicians to receive more information during biopsies and detection procedures.

Developed by Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) scientists Viktor Gruev and Shuming Nie, this promising discovery recently led to a $9M P01 award from the National Cancer Institute, to be used over five years, in which researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Purdue University, and Johnson & Johnson are also Principal Investigators (PIs) on the grant providing innovations that synergize with the camera technology and leading clinical trials with lung cancer patients at Penn Medicine.

“There are gaps in the current imaging technologies and contrast agents used in the operating room,” said Gruev, also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “This grant is taking a holistic approach, bringing a team together that can address the technology and also work with and receive honest feedback from surgeons.”



Over the past decade, Gruev has been collaborating with Illinois colleagues across disciplines to re-create the mantis shrimp’s complex visual system in a single device that would provide doctors with a multi-spectral view – allowing surgeons to see exactly where the tumor is located. This technology serves multiple purposes, offering surgeons better images during a biopsy and when performing an endoscopy, a procedure in which a camera-like instrument is inserted into the body to better detect diseases like cancer.


“see-through” goggles developed at UIUC for image-guided cancer surgery

The “see-through” goggles developed at UIUC for image-guided cancer surgery. Photo credit: Viktor Gruev. 

“One of the strengths we bring to this project is the ability to miniaturize the device for these procedures. Dr. Gruev’s lab has been able to eliminate the need for multiple cameras in an operating room with this single device,” said Nie, professor of bioengineering. “And they have also been able to create a camera that is minimally invasive when inserted into the body.”

This P01 award will allow Penn Medicine doctors to utilize the Illinois technology when conducting bronchoscopies on patients to detect and diagnose lung cancer.

In addition to the camera advancement, the UIUC team is wielding augmented reality to further improve the information received by surgeons. Gruev’s lab has created goggles that will provide 3D visualization to doctors during surgery.

“Receiving substantial support from the National Cancer Institute is a validation of the importance, urgency, and potential impact that this bio-inspired imaging technology will have on the world. This project is an excellent example of how engineers are working in collaboration with clinicians to ultimately transform the future of cancer care and improve patient lives,” said Rohit Bhargava, CCIL Director.

The success of the camera in previous clinical trials has opened the door for additional future partnerships. The Illinois team is working with grant co-PI Timothy Fan, CCIL research program leader and Illinois professor of veterinary clinical medicine, to establish clinical trials with animal patients.

“From the clinical side, we want to ensure that this technology is easy to use and understandable, and that is actually a valuable tool for doctors,” Gruev said. “And from the patient side, of course, we want to make sure that all cancer cells are removed from their body the first time they have a surgical procedure. Our ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.”







Collaborating researchers include Purdue University’s Philip Low, PhD, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Johnson & Johnson’s Bruce Rosengard, MD; lead principal investigator at the University of Pennsylvania, Sunil Singhal; William Maul Measey, Professor in Surgical Research and Chief of Thoracic Surgery, and director of the Center for Precision Surgery in the Abramson Cancer Center; and Edward Delikatny, PhD, a professor of Radiology and Director of Translational Research at the Center for Precision Surgery.

Viktor Gruev is a professor of electrical and computer engineering with appointments in bioengineering and biomedical and translation sciences. He is affiliated with the Beckman Institute. Shuming Nie is the Grainger Distinguished Chair and a professor of bioengineering with appointments in electrical and computer engineering and materials science and engineering. Timothy Fan is the Assistant Head of Research & Graduate Studies in Veterinary and Clinical Medicine with appointments in pathobiology and biomedical translational sciences. He is affiliated with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.

Media Contact: Jordan Goebig, CCIL Communications Manager, 217-300-4008

Read the Penn Medicine press release.