Updated 03:03 AM EST, Sat, Dec 04, 2021

iKnife Can Detect Cancer While It Cuts and Distinguish Horse Meat from Beef

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Doctors might soon have another new, powerful weapon to help in the fight against cancer, in the form of a surgical knife that can instantly tell whether surgeons are cutting cancerous or healthy tissue.

Dr. Zoltan Takats of Imperial College developed the knife after wondering if the smoke produced during cancer surgery might contain particulates indicating whether the burning tissue is cancerous or not. Oncology surgeons often use electro-surgical knives that use heat to cut the patient's tissue, which produces a wisp of smoke.

Dr. Takats decided to make a surgical knife - called the iKnife - that could analyze that smoke, giving surgeons a clearer indication whether they've completely removed a cancerous tumor, according to the Associated Press. Among the many possible benefits of this nascent technology include the fact that cancer removal surgery may, in the future, involve removing less healthy tissue, and thus improve recovery rates.

The iKnife can analyze smoke produced in surgery because it is hooked up to a "refrigerator-sized" mass spectrometry device, which analyzes the smoke from the cauterizing tissue and compares it to a stored database of smoke "signatures" - chemicals profiles in the smoke from the different metabolites present different types of cells. The database includes data from both cancerous and healthy tissues, and the iKnife can give spectrometry results in less than three seconds.

Up until now, when surgeons perform an operation, they have to send samples of the removed tissue to the lab for analysis, which in the best case scenarios (at the best, most well-equipped hospitals) still takes about half an hour to perform. Additionally, since there is no real-time irrefutable indicator of whether tissue is cancerous or not, doctors often remove more tissue than is absolutely necessary, just to avoid having to put the patient through another surgery or more treatment to finish off any missed cancer tissue.

With the iKnife, doctors could avoid the 30-minute (or in most cases, probably longer) waiting period and be more certain that they've performed a complete, and successful surgery. "In cancer surgery, you want to take out as little healthy tissue as possible, but you have to ensure that you remove all of the cancer. There is a real need for technology that can help the surgeon determine which tissue to cut out and which to leave in," said Lord Darzi, Professor of Surgery at Imperial College London, "the iKnife has the potential to do this, and the impact on cancer surgery could be enormous."

According to the Imperial College London, the first study to test the iKnife in the operating theater was a total success. The new invention diagnosed tissues samples from 91 patients with an accuracy rate of exactly 100 percent.

Researchers now hope to carry out clinical trials to see if using the iKnife in surgery will improve patient outcomes. "These results provide compelling evidence that the iKnife can be applied in a wide range of cancer surgery procedures," said Dr Takats to the Imperial College London. "It provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn't been possible before. We believe it has the potential to reduce tumor recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive."

In the future, look for the iKnife beyond the operating room. The iKnife may have applications outside of cancer surgeries, including diagnosing inadequate blood supplies to tissue, studying the types of bacteria present in any given tissue, or even distinguishing different types of meats. Dr. Takats says it can successfully tell the difference between horse meat and beef - a tool Europeans could use.

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