Now here's a smart idea: a knife that knows when it is cutting cancer. The amazing new "iKnife," developed by doctors at the Imperial College of London, could one day soon revolutionize cancer surgery and help doctors remove more cancerous tumors than they are able to do today.
In order to understand how the iKnife works, it's important to understand how cancer surgeries work. Most cancer surgeries today use something called an electrosurgical device. It's not really a scalpel: it produces a burst of heat that vaporizes cancer tumors. Doctors don't know for sure if the tissue they are cutting is cancerous without having it tested — a process that can take 30 minutes.
Bu where there is heat, of course, there is smoke, and surgical procedures are often accompanied by the sharp smell of the tumors being burned out of a patient's body. The iKnife takes advantage of that smoke. A small "chimney" near the tip sucks in the smoke, analyzes it, and almost instantly — less than 1 second — lets a surgeon know if the flesh being cut is cancerous. If a nearby monitor displays green, the tissue is healthy. If the display flashes red, the tissue is cancerous.
In addition to providing real-time analysis and speeding up surgeries, the device may offer surgeons the ability to cut out more cancer than they can today. Many surgeries today try to cut out entire tumors, but later tests and scans reveal that a portion is left behind. The iKnife could help solve that problem. "We believe it has the potential to reduce tumor recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive," inventor Zoltan Takats said in a press release this week.
The research behind the iKnife and the mass spectrometry used to analyze the smoke produced during surgery was published July 17 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Doctors also demonstrated it to the media — using a piece of pig's liver.
Although the iKnife has been tested in 81 surgeries it still needs additional studies and regulatory approval before it can actually make its way to market.
You can learn more about the iKnife and see it in action in this video from Bloomberg News:
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