New electrosurgery technology that makes use of a knife that can sniff out cancer cells as it cuts through tissue, is making headlines.
The knife, developed by researchers at the Imperial College of London, is based on an electrosurgery technique in which the knife uses an electric current to heat up tissue as it cuts. This rapid cutting combined with high heat results in minimal blood loss and vaporizes the tissue instantly. When the tissue is incinerated, it creates a smoke which is sucked into extraction systems. The smoke contains important information that can provide critical data about the characteristics of the tissue that emits the smoke.
The Intelligent Knife or iKnife, can analyze samples of the smoke, and determine the presence of cancer cells in the tissue. The researchers who have developed the surgical knife recently explained the technique in Science Translational Medicine, and say that the surgery has been combined with a technique known as rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometry.
Diagnosis of the cancer cells in the tissue using this spectrometry takes between three and 10 seconds. Under normal circumstances, the surgeon would have to take some of the samples of the tissue, and send it to a laboratory for analysis to ensure that the cancer cells have been completely eradicated. That would take between 20 minutes to half an hour.
The researchers tested the iKnife technique, and used fresh tissue samples from as many 300 patients. These tissue samples included samples of brain, stomach, colon, lung, breast, and liver tumors. The researchers found that accuracy of the iKnife was 100%. The iKnife was able to distinguish between primary as well as metastatic tumors.
Not only is the knife able to detect cancer cells instantly as it cuts through tissue, but it also delivers 100% accuracy results. Those 100% accurate results may not always be possible with a laboratory test. Lab tests have a small, but dangerous risk of false diagnosis, or false test results.
The current technique, in which a surgeon is forced to wait while tissue samples are analyzed in the laboratory and brought back to the operating room, could soon be a thing of the past. The iKnife promises to revolutionize cancer surgery, making it easy for cancer surgeons to determine that all cancer cells have been removed before completing the surgery. When a surgeon is able to determine that all cancer cells have been eradicated, there is a lower risk of recurrence of the cancer.
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