Nerve trauma is a major cause of morbidity associated with surgery and can lead to loss of sensation, chronic postsurgical pain, and erectile dysfunction. Although human nerve anatomy is known, precisely locating tissue- embedded nerves is challenging during surgery due to individual anatomical variation, intricacy, and size. De- spite the use of nerve sparing techniques, the risk of iatrogenic nerve damage remains high in a wide array of prominent open and minimally invasive surgeries, ranging from radical prostatectomy (prostate cancer), coro- nary artery bypass graft (cardiovascular disease), lymph node dissection (breast cancer), and spine surgery. The team proposes to improve intra operative detection of nerves through two complimentary technologies: (1) near infrared fluorescent contrast agents targeting nerves, and (2) dedicated compact and minimally invasive surgical instruments to simultaneously image nerve fluorescence and anatomy in real-time. The ability of these molecular imaging agents and surgical instruments to visualize nerves will be validated in preclinical models. The long-term goal of this study is to provide tools for surgeons to minimize iatrogenic nerve damage, expedite surgical procedures, enhance surgical efficiency, and improve patient outcomes.
Nerve damage during surgery can have a significant deleterious effect on patient quality of life. Unintentional damage to nerves can lead to chronic pain, loss of sensation, and erectile dysfunction. A method to better visualize nerves during surgery would improve patient outcome by reducing the risk of nerve damage.
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