New surgical knife instantly detects cancer.
This amazing invention will help surgeons make sure they’ve removed all of the cancerous tissue during initial surgery. Most cancerous tissue is removed by a knife that heats tissue as it cuts, producing a sharp-smelling smoke.
Cancerous tissue and healthy tissue produce a different odor. The smart knife analyzes the smoke while the surgeon is cutting out the cancerous tissue, instantly signaling whether the tissue is healthy or cancerous.
Currently, the surgeons have to send the tissue to a lab and wait 30 minutes or so for results.
The inventor, Dr. Zoltan Takats, hooked up a “smart” knife to a large mass spectrometry device on wheels that analyzes the smoke from cauterizing tissue.
The spectrometry device stores a library of smoke “signatures” from both cancerous and non-cancerous tissues. A simple tri-color code is displayed on a monitor: green for healthy, red for cancerous, and yellow designates unidentifiable. When the surgeon has removed all the cancerous tissue, the knife detects the difference and the color on the monitor changes.
Because it can take no less than 30 minutes even in the best hospitals, many doctors often remove a bit more tissue than absolutely necessary just to make sure they’ve removed the tumor.
If all of the cancerous cells are not removed, patients sometimes need to have additional surgery or go through chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
As with anything new, a hefty price tag ($380,000) accompany the machines and knife but should drop lower if the technology is commercialized.
The knife has been tested at three hospitals between 2010 and 2012. The sample base consisted of tissue samples taken from 302 patients, which were then entered in to the spectrometry device.
Then, tumors from 91 patients were analyzed using the smart knife. The new knife correctly spotted cancer in every case.
Takats believes the knife will ultimately be submitted for regulatory approval but more studies are planned. He also suspects the smart knife might also be used for other things like identifying tissues with bad blood supply and identifying the types of bacteria present.
Because brain tumors are infamous for penetrating into healthy brain tissue beyond the surgeon’s vision, the new smart knife would be a valuable tool, experts say.
There are certainly other aspects of the knife that need researched: whether the smart knife will actually help patients live longer, whether the tool cuts down on patient’s surgery times, and blood loss and rate of wound infections.
While it will be a few years until the device is readily available and used, this is fascinating science.