Seeing Lyphodemia with Night Vision

Surprisingly enough, there are parts of the body that scientists have never seen-at least, in a live patient. But with the help of a little military technology, scientists at UT Health Science Center are going in to uncharted territory. What they find will help thousands of cancer patients. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports.

“What you’re seeing here is the arm, the elbow…”

Dr. Eva Sevick is looking at something that has never been seen by doctors before. It’s like Christopher Columbus gazing at rivers in the New World.

“Isn’t that incredible?”

Sevick, a professor at UT Health Science Center Houston, is admiring a video of the lymphatic system-glowing green fluid pulsing through a patient’s arm.  The lymphatic system is like the body’s sewer system: it picks up extra fluid, and helps bring it to where it belongs. But doctors could never actually see this system at work, because X Rays and MRI don’t pick it up. That is, until Sevick came up with a creative idea.

“Probably after the first Gulf War, you know, they would do all their maneuvers at night,  if you remember the newscast, you’d see this green glow, that was the night goggle technology…and when I saw that on TV, I thought 'Oh, this would be a great detector for medical imaging'.”

That’s right: night vision goggles. Dr. Sevick and her team inject volunteers with a little fluorescent dye, and then use the goggles to watch the fluid.  Someday, this may help doctors diagnose cancer. It can also help patients with lymphodema, a swelling of the arm or leg that often comes after cancer treatments.

“It’s mind boggling, because we’ve never had anything like this, at all”

Dr. Latisha Smith is medical director of the Memorial Hermann Lymphodema Management Program.  Before now, there was no way to know what was actually causing the swelling. But with Dr. Sevick’s night vision goggles, she can see right in to a patient’s arm.

“Your lymphatics when they inject your hand should carry the fluid upstream towards the heart.  Her lymphatic channels pumped the fluid towards her fingers.  It was pumping in the wrong direction.  Again, we don’t understand why that is, but it’s the first time that we’ve ever imagined that lyphatics could pump in a reverse direction”

Julia Bob is a patient at Memorial Hermman.  Her right arm swelled noticeably after she began chemotherapy for cancer.

“There were certain things that I could not put on because of the swelling, I couldn’t put on certain shirts …my wardrobe was limited because I could not wear certain items”

To treat her lymphodema, Bob used to wear bandages all the way up her arm. So she looks forward to the day that this new technology can change her life.

“I think anybody who ever goes through this, would be a  great thing, you know, if something else could come up where we don’t have to deal with this anymore…you know, I’m just waiting, so if that’s a possibility, that that day could come, that would be great”

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez