Fresh Faces, New Energy: Michael Giacomelli, Ph.D.

Sep. 30, 2020
Michael Giacomelli, Ph.D.

An assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering, Michael Giacomelli, Ph.D., has two babies. One is his daughter Samantha, who was born just as he was setting up his lab in Rochester. The other is a prized invention, a novel 3D imaging device, which can be rolled on a small cart into an operating room so that surgeons can detect in less than three minutes whether a biopsy is cancerous. Each is taking a lot of time, patience, and care.

The son of an engineering professor, Giacomelli has degrees in computer science and computer engineering and, over time, realized that he could “be a part of medicine without being a doctor.” He started working on the invention more than five years ago while a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Currently, if a woman has a lumpectomy to treat breast cancer, for example, she undergoes surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue. But she must wait for days until pathologists determine if any cancer cells remain in the outer margins of the breast. A second operation is required if all of the cells were not removed.

Giacomelli’s technology allows surgeons to see immediately, during the first surgery, if more tissue should be excised to get clean margins. He’s also evaluating it for skin cancer biopsies.

The next step is to ensure that non-engineers are comfortable using the imaging device, and to conduct clinical trials. Students recently used it to study human prostate samples and discovered the device was 97 percent accurate at finding microscopic cancer cells near the tissue margins. At one time in history, Giacomelli says, biopsies were studied by candlelight.

“Our device jumped 100 years into the future.”