BIG PROBLEMS, BIG SOLUTIONS:
LightIR: Changing The Way We See (And Treat) Cancer Forever
What we do, and why we’re doing it.
Scary statistics follow scary diseases, and cancer is no exception. With today’s rates, we’re expecting that half our world — almost 4 billion people — will develop cancer in their lives. And for a quarter of us, it’s going to be the reason we die.
But, there’s something a whole lot scarier. Unlike every other disease we’ve ever fought, no amount of technology, research, or knowledge has gotten us close to catching up with cancer. If we don’t do anything about it, we never will.
We’re LightIR, and we’ve joined the battle to end cancer. Here’s how we’re planning on fighting it.
But before we start, let’s go over what cancer is and why it’s kept getting the better of us for over two thousand years.
At its core, cancer’s a genetic disease.
While the genes your parents passed down to you play a role, cancer usually comes up as the result of mutations to your DNA over your lifetime, which begins to affect how your cells function.
To be more specific, cancer causes a lot more of your cells to appear in your body than they should.
These mutated cells can grow into clusters called tumours — you’ve probably heard of them before. Given enough time, tumours can infiltrate into your bloodstream— taking up the space saved for vital parts of your body and prevent them from working. That’s how cancer kills.
And because of that, stopping those tumours before they spread is a matter of life and death. That’s why one of the leading treatments for cancer is to surgically remove the tumours it causes.
Enter tumour resections.
Not only are they the most common treatment for cancer, but resections are one of the most widely performed surgical procedures in general. There’s just one problem. They don’t work:
Treatments should give patients results, and resections are far from perfect. Between 30%-50% of people who go through resections have their original tumour return (relapse) just 1–2 years after their operation. Let’s start from the beginning to get an idea of why.
Think of resections as a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek between a surgeon and a tumour. In just a few hours, the surgeon has to find every single one of the potentially trillions of cancerous cells in a patient.
And if even one cell gets left behind, it makes the entire procedure useless —basically securing that place for it to grow into a tumour again.
Finding the tumour in a patient is easy enough, but it still doesn’t give surgeons the cellular resolution they need to remove everything — like leftover traces of cancer invisible to the naked eye. That’s where pathology labs come in:
Pathology labs are centers equipped with the tools designed to screen for diseases, and pathologists trained to diagnose them on lab or biopsy specimens.
In a resection, it’s a pathologist's job to guide surgeons while they try locating cancer cells — using their diagnoses to nudge them in the right direction. And while the details might look a bit different from surgery to surgery, here’s how they work:
Since a medical professional already found a tumour in the patient, the surgeon creates incisions around the area until they can access it.
Then, assuming that the tumour looks different from the tissue surrounding it, the surgeon keeps removing (excising) it until they feel like they need a second opinion before cutting further.
For a deeper analysis of their work, they send samples of every lump of tissue they remove to the pathology lab. Next, pathologists inspect it under a microscope to see if the tumour leached into the edge of the healthy tissue.
If it did, it means that there might still be some cancer cells left in the patient nearby, and the surgery has to continue.
But if the gap between the edge of the cancer cells and the margin was large enough (usually between 1–2 mm), the surgeon gets the green light to move on to other suspected regions:
Now, just rinse and repeat until all the samples have a clear margin, and you have a full tumour resection.
But here’s where the process collapses.
After removing the tumour, surgeons have no way of knowing what tissue to cut out. If they remove too little, then the patient’s cancer relapses after the resection.
But taking out too much tissue — especially for sensitive organs like the brain or lungs could disable patients for the rest of their lives. And because of that, surgeons can even cut in the same area twice or miss others completely.
For most resections, pathology tests happen during the surgery and take up to half an hour per sample. Testing happens dozens of times before the surgery ends — and in the meantime, the entire surgery goes on hold. That wasted time adds up fast.
Being overcautious and sending more samples to the lab isn’t an option either. The longer the surgery pulls on, the higher the risk of the patient dying from complications. So on top of the first dilemma, surgeons have to rush through the operation — making mistakes that much more likely to happen.
The race to detect and remove every single cancer cell in patients is an uphill battle for surgeons. But what if they could quickly and accurately test for cancer cells wherever and whenever they wanted?
That was the inspiration for LightIR.
Beating Cancer With Science:
LightIR is the world’s first handheld probe made to streamline resections by detecting cancer accurately, non-invasively, and in real-time. Not only does it help surgeons make the best decisions possible — but it makes cancer relapse almost impossible:
But also, it works in a way you might not expect. Our probe leverages the principle of spectroscopy. It tells us that every object has a unique molecular “fingerprint,” and that light responds in a unique way to every fingerprint it interacts with:
When we put those two ideas together, it means that emitting light at an object and measuring how it reflects off can give us an idea of that object’s molecular composition.
Believe it or not — microscopes aren’t the only way to look for cancer. Aside from how cancer cells don’t look the same as healthy cells, they’re not made the same either.
Because of the mutations that cause them, cancer cells gain or lose a few compounds — throwing off the chemical balance that you’d find in normal cells. Some of those substances happen to be photoactive — meaning they can absorb light particles (photons) and stop light from reflecting back from them.
If you compare how the same type of light would react to a cancerous vs. a healthy cell, the abnormal concentration of photoactive substances in the cancer cell would change your measurement of the photons that come back.
During a resection, a surgeon turns the probe on — activating its light source and light sensors. When they place it on the tissue, the probe’s light sensors record the levels of incoming photons in real-time.
The data from the sensor then gets sent to a device with a USB connection, where our software uses AI to display a diagnosis to the surgeon.
So far, we’ve used LightIR to gather millions of data points on cancer cells, which we’ve used to train the first version of our software to 99.5% accuracy, precision, and sensitivity.
And with our spectroscopy technique, we’ve got the device to make five diagnoses every second — around 60,000X faster than current technology.
We’ve condensed the functionality of the best pathology labs into a probe you can hold in your hand.
Resections are battles we can’t afford to lose — but we keep losing.
We created LightIR to change the way we cancer forever. To push medicine to the next-generation and get closer to beating cancer, so everyone in the world can feel secure about their futures — no matter what disease they’re facing.
A better world. That’s what we’re working towards every day, and we won’t stop till we get there.
We’re LightIR, and we’re battling cancer with innovation.
Hey, I’m Aaryan — the founder of LightIR 👋! Thanks for reading my article about what we do — hopefully, it was a good read. If you have any questions for us, want to join our team or have anything else you might want us to know about, get in touch here. Stay safe!