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'Magic scalpel' that singles out tumors could revolutionize cancer surgery

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In what could revolutionize cancer surgery, a "smart" scalpel that instantly singles out cancerous tissue has been invented. The device, dubbed the "iKnife" distinguishes between healthy tissue and tumors, the "magic wand" could allow surgeons to attempt formerly risky procedures.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - As a result, patients would have to undergo fewer operations, be left with smaller wounds and have improved chances of survival.

"It has been long-recognized that it would be nice to have a real-time identification of tissue, kind of a magic wand. One could touch the tissue and it would immediately tell what kind of tissue it was," inventor Dr. Zoltan Takats, of Imperial College London, says.

"The iKnife provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that haven't been possible before. It has the potential to reduce tumor recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive."

There are nearly almost two million cancer-related operations annually in the United Kingdom alone. Even the best surgeons cannot be sure of removing the entire tumor, leading to a return and further operations.

Cancer surgeons currently use scans carried out before the operation to guide them before they make an incision. They can also send a sample of tissue to the laboratory to confirm if it is cancerous or healthy while the procedure is being performed. This is an expensive, time-consuming procedure for results that are not always accurate.

With the iKnife, a combination of two existing pieces of equipment tells the surgeon as he cuts through the flesh if it is diseased.

The first component, an electric scalpel, is already routinely used in operations to sear through flesh. The scalpel produces smoke, typically sucked away by extractor fans.

Takats realized the smoke is valuable because it contains information about the flesh that was burnt away. A tube is used to collect the smoke and pass it to a mass spectrometer, which then analyzes the smoke. Comparing its chemical make-up with the make-up of known tumors, the device can tell if the tissue was cancerous or not.

The results then flash up on a screen next to the surgeon, sometimes taking less than a second. In a study involving operations on 91 cancer patients, it proved to be 100 percent accurate.

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.

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