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Infrared camera sparks innovative surgical solution

More than 30 Sunnybrook head and neck surgery patients have benefited from a new technology inspired by a drafty house.

Surgical oncologist Dr. Kevin Higgins hired an HVAC technician to help improve the efficiency of his home when he noticed the specialist using a thermal imaging camera to detect heat loss. “He showed me how it uses infrared imaging to record temperature variations,” explains Dr. Higgins.

Dr. Higgins saw the potential application to a persistent surgical problem – how to find healthy blood vessels in transplanted tissue. He partnered with University Health Network and two former surgical oncology fellows in the U.S. to pilot the new idea using an off-the-shelf infrared camera that plugs directly into the charging port of an iPhone.

Doctor Higgins
Murad and James with team members of Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project.
Dr. Kevin Higgins, is a surgical oncologist and affiliate scientist for evaluation clinical sciences within the Odette Cancer Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

After the initial results showed the infrared camera to be significantly more accurate than Doppler ultrasound, the current standard of care, Dr. Higgins introduced the technology at Sunnybrook.

“It allows us to streamline care by visualizing exactly where the blood vessels flow through the skin as opposed to approximating their location based on an audible signal,” Dr. Higgins says of the more than 30 cases he has completed to date.

Now Dr. Higgins is working with his partners to scale up the technology to other hospitals and with donors to purchase additional cameras.