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A surgical knife that's intelligent detects cancer, but that's not all

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Researchers invent an 'intelligent knife' that can detect cancer.

Researchers at the Imperial College of London have developed an "intelligent knife" that can tell surgeons if they are cutting out cancerous or non-cancerous healthy tissue. The knife.called the the "iKnife", has just been tested in 91 patients and passed with flying colors.

In 100 percent of cases the "iKnife" told surgeons if tissue was cancerous in less than 3-seconds, which is a much shorter time that it takes for lab analysis.

During surgery cancerous tumors are removed, But cells can linger in surrounding tissue, so it's normal for surgeons to remove a margin of healthy tissue too. But it's impossible to know if all of the cancer has been removed. Doctor's can't tell if there is cancer around a tumor just by looking.

Dr Zoltan Takats of Imperial College London came up with the idea for the intelligent knife when he realized the 'smoke' emitted when tissue is removed with electrosurgical knives could be collected and chemically analyzed for metabolites.

Takats attached an electrosurgical knife to a mass spectrometer that is a device that analyzes chemicals contained in a sample.

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For their study of the "iKnife", researchers collected samples form tissues of 302 patients that underwent surgery including brain, lung, breast, stomach, colon and liver tumors for the purpose of creating a reference library of chemicals found in the tissues.

When the knife was tested in surgery in 91 patients, it was able to match the chemicals in the reference library in less than 3-seconds. During the study, the surgeons were not given access to the results. The researchers plan to study the intelligent knife further to find out if patient outcomes could be improved by allowing doctors to see the results.

" Dr Takats said in a press release the "iKnife" "...provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn't been possible before. We believe it has the potential to reduce tumour recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive."

The scientists say there are many other applications that use chemical profiling including detection of bacteria and poor blood flow to tissue, in addition to detecting cancer

Lord Darzi, Professor of Surgery at Imperial College London, who also co-authored the study, said: "In cancer surgery, you want to take out as little healthy tissue as possible, but you have to ensure that you remove all of the cancer. There is a real need for technology that can help the surgeon determine which tissue to cut out and which to leave in. This study shows that the iKnife has the potential to do this, and the impact on cancer surgery could be enormous."

The intelligent knife was even able to differentiate horse meat from beef, the researchers found.