026: Samuel Achilefu, PhD (Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology)

Dr. Samuel Achilefu on Innovation City

“There are two stages of entrepreneurship, or creativity; the first is to see if you can make it better, then if you can’t, then you should create something new.” —Samuel Achilefu, PhD

Welcome to Innovation City—powered by Venture Cafe—where Tyler Kelley and Michael Johnson, Co-Founders of SLAM! Agency, interview innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency in conjunction with Venture Cafe St. Louis and Venture Cafe Miami, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s episode was recorded at 39 North in the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and today’s guest is Samuel Achilefu, PhD, the Director of the Optical Radiology Laboratory at the Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Achilefu is a professor of Radiology, Biomedical Engineering, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. He holds the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Endowed Chair in Radiology, and serves as Vice Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. He performs groundbreaking research in the field of cancer research, including the invention of cancer goggles, which were developed to help surgeons see and remove cancer in patients. Find Dr. Achilefu on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @SamuelAchilefu, and on Facebook at @Samuel.achilefu.

They discuss:

  • The development of Cancer Goggles, which light up cancer cells in real time. This helps surgeons remove every cancer cell during a surgery
  • Surviving the Nigerian civil war during his early childhood
  • Dr. Achilefu’s disinterest in medicine in his youth; he hated the sight of blood
  • Dr. Achilefu’s view that a PhD is just training that teaches you to think well; a starting point, not an end point
  • “Nothing is real until you make it so” and the importance of convincing other people to see and understand your solutions to problems
  • Nobody believed in cancer goggles when he first started
  • Making something from nothing
  • Innovation vs. Novelty
  • Innovation = taking something that exists and building on it to make it better.
  • Novelty = Taking something that doesn’t exist and making it real; creating something new
  • The end goal of visualizing cancer with the cancer goggles; being able to treat more patients faster while also increasing the effectiveness of the surgery
  • The potential to transform and expand surgery and training around the world
  • Dr. Achilefu’s driving force: making treatment more accessible for more people
  • Providing the same outcome in a local hospital as in an advanced imaging center, leveling the playing field for patients around the world
  • Is Medicine Science or Art?
  • Teaching people to feel and visualize things they understand intellectually
  • Reducing subjectivity and building objectivity
  • Using technology to enhance decision-making
  • The dream of curing cancer
  • Access to healthcare for everyone, independent of individual wealth and resources
  • Finding ways to locate tumors as early as possible
  • The importance of the students, staff, colleagues and coworkers who work alongside Dr. Achilefu