A new smart knife developed in London can help surgeons find cancerous tissue real-time during surgery, at a faster rate than traditional lab tests.
This intelligent knife — known as the "iKnife" — accurately detects whether tissue a surgeon is cutting is cancerous, within three seconds. It does this through analysis discovered by inventor Zoltan Takats at Imperial College London. To treat cancer with solid tumors, the college noted in a news release, surgeons normally try to remove the tumors via surgery, but it's hard to see exactly which tissue is cancerous. So Takats figured out that the smoke produced during such surgeries with electrosurgical knives is actually packed with important information. Electrosurgical knives use electricity to heat and vaporize tissue, and smoke is a byproduct of that process, according to Imperial College London. Takats' iKnife is an electrosurgical knife connected to an analytical instrument and the smoke's composition is analyzed, real-time, during surgery. The researchers in this iKnife study say this means doctors can take out more of the bad tissue and thus minimize the removal of healthy tissue.
In a test, the iKnife was found to be 100% accurate in the diagnosis of 81 tissue samples from patients. The process was instant, compared to traditional laboratory tests, which could take up to a half-hour.
“It provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn’t been possible before," Takats said, according to the college's news release. "We believe it has the potential to reduce tumor recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive.” Moving forward, the university says the researchers now want to hold a clinical trial to see if surgeons' access to the iKnife's analysis "can improve patients' outcomes." In addition to cancer diagnosis, Takats said the iKnife has the potential to point out bacteria types in tissue or to distinguish horse meat from beef.
The iKnife and its accompanying machines are not cheap: They cost about $380,000. But that price could drop if the technology is commercialized, The Associated Press reported.
For more on the researchers' findings, check out the study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.