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Vanderbilt-developed technology enhances surgeons’ ability to identify parathyroid glands, study finds

Study shows Vanderbilt-developed technology assists surgeons in identifying parathyroids

As someone who has always been fascinated by advancements in medical technology, I was thrilled to come across a recent study conducted by a team of surgeons and biomedical engineers at Vanderbilt University. Their findings highlight the use of probe-based near infrared autofluorescence (NIRAF) technology in assisting surgeons in identifying parathyroid glands during endocrine surgery. This groundbreaking technology has the potential to revolutionize the field of surgery and improve patient outcomes.

An Innovative Solution to a Common Problem

Parathyroid glands, despite their tiny size, play a crucial role in regulating blood calcium levels to support various bodily functions. However, identifying these glands during surgery has always been a challenge due to their unpredictable anatomical position and similar appearance to surrounding tissues. The delicate nature of the blood supply to parathyroid glands further complicates the process.

The team at Vanderbilt University has developed a probe-based system that utilizes near-infrared autofluorescence to differentiate parathyroid tissue from other tissues in real-time. By illuminating the glands with a specific wavelength of light, the parathyroid glands glow and can be easily identified by the surgeon, without the need for time-consuming frozen section biopsies. This technology has the potential to significantly improve the accuracy and efficiency of parathyroid surgery.

Impressive Results from a Controlled Trial

The recent randomized controlled trial conducted by the Vanderbilt team involved 160 patients undergoing parathyroidectomy. The patients were divided into two groups: one using the probe-based NIRAF technology and the other serving as the control group. The study collected data on the number of parathyroids identified, the need for frozen sections, surgery duration, and post-operative outcomes.

The results were promising. The surgeons using the probe-based technology showed a higher confidence level in identifying parathyroids, regardless of their level of experience. The identification rate of parathyroids per patient increased from 3.2 to 3.6 for the senior surgeon and from 2.2 to 2.5 for the junior surgeon when using the probe. Notably, trainee surgeons saw a significant improvement, with identification rates increasing from 0.9 to 2.9 parathyroids per patient.

Additionally, the use of the probe-based NIRAF technology significantly reduced the need for frozen sections, which not only saves time but also eliminates the need for unnecessary biopsies. This is a win-win situation for both patients and surgeons.

A Lifesaver for Patients

The importance of accurately identifying and preserving parathyroid glands cannot be overstated. Accidental damage or removal of healthy parathyroid glands during surgery can lead to serious complications, including post-surgical hypoparathyroidism, which can have long-lasting effects on a patient’s health and quality of life.

Treatment for hypoparathyroidism involves lifelong supplementation with calcium and vitamin D, and can lead to impaired renal function and other complications. In cases where diseased parathyroid tissue is not identified and removed, patients may require costly repeat surgeries and face unnecessary risks.

Furthermore, children undergoing endocrine surgery are particularly vulnerable. Damage or removal of calcium-regulating parathyroid glands can have detrimental effects on their growth and mental development.

Key Takeaway

The use of probe-based NIRAF technology developed by a team at Vanderbilt University has the potential to revolutionize parathyroid surgery. By providing surgeons with real-time visualization and confirmation of parathyroid glands, this technology improves the accuracy of identification and reduces the need for time-consuming frozen sections. It has the potential to minimize surgical complications and improve patient outcomes.

Related Facts

  • In 2018, the FDA cleared two devices, including the probe-based PTeye developed at Vanderbilt University, to assist in detecting parathyroid glands.
  • The size of parathyroid glands is equivalent to a grain of rice.
  • Accidental damage or removal of healthy parathyroid glands occurs in 5-15% of patients undergoing thyroid surgery.


The development of probe-based NIRAF technology marks a significant advancement in the field of endocrine surgery. Surgeons can now confidently identify and preserve parathyroid glands, reducing the risk of complications and improving patient outcomes. This research not only showcases the capabilities of Vanderbilt University but also highlights the potential for technology to enhance surgical procedures and improve the lives of patients.

Denk Liu
Denk Liu
Denk Liu is an honest person who always tells it like it is. He's also very objective, seeing the situation for what it is and not getting wrapped up in emotion. He's a regular guy - witty and smart but not pretentious. He loves playing video games and watching action movies in his free time.

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