- iKnife could allow surgeons to tackle risky operations
- Accurately distinguishes between healthy tissue and tumours
A ‘smart’ scalpel that instantly sniffs out cancerous tissue has been created by scientists.
By accurately distinguishing between healthy tissue and tumours, the ‘magic wand’ could revolutionise cancer surgery.
Patients would have to undergo fewer operations, be left with smaller wounds, and have a greater chance of survival.
Use of the iKnife could also allow surgeons to tackle operations currently deemed too risky to attempt.
‘The iKnife provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn’t been possible before. It has the potential to reduce tumour recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive.’
More than 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year – leading to almost two million operations.
But even the best surgeons cannot be sure of removing the entire tumour. This can lead to the disease returning or mean the patient needs a second operation.
At present, cancer surgeons use scans carried out before the operation to guide them as they cut into the patient. During the operation, they can also send a sample of tissue to the laboratory to confirm if it is cancerous or healthy. But this is expensive, time-consuming and, crucially, the results are not always accurate.
Dr Takats’ solution is the iKnife, a combination of two existing pieces of equipment, which tells the surgeon as he cuts through the flesh if it is diseased.
The first piece of equipment, an electric scalpel, is already routinely used in operations to sear through flesh. As it does this it produces smoke, which is usually sucked away by extractor fans.
Dr Takats realised the smoke is valuable because it contains information about the flesh that was burnt away. So he used a tube to collect the smoke and pass it to a mass spectrometer. It analyses the smoke and by comparing its chemical make-up with the make-up of known tumours, it can tell if the tissue was cancerous or not.
The results then flash up on a screen next to the surgeon. Some analyses take less than a second. In a study involving operations on 91 cancer patients, it proved to be 100 per cent accurate, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports.
The device is already being used in three London hospitals, as part of a larger study. If it is as successful as hoped, it could be in widespread use in two or three years.
By FIONA MACRAE
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