Intelligent Scalpel Identifies Cancerous Tissue While Cutting Into it

By Nick Venable | Published

cancer scalpelWhen it comes to cancer, humanity’s goal is of course to completely eradicate the filthy beast from our lives, both from the inside and the outside. But it’s one of the hardest medical battles there is, so sometimes a silver lining needs to appear within other medical advancements to keep the positivity strong. Researchers from the Imperial College London have done just that by developing an intelligent knife that is able to detect whether or not human tissue is cancerous within seconds of cutting into it. Not that they’re going to just start cutting people to see if they have cancer, but one of the biggest problems with tumor removal is in not being 100% certain where the healthy tissue begins and the cancerous tissue ends, and the iKnife could almost definitely fix this, putting an end to needless additional surgeries post-tumor removal.

For a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers unveiled their iKnife (intelligent knife) and its seemingly perfect success rate. Electrosurgery, a practice that’s been around since the 1920s, involves a scalpel that uses an electrical current to heat up skin tissue while cutting to limit blood loss. The smoke created from the burning tissue is generally vacuumed away, but iKnife inventor Zoltan Takats wisely realized that there was much biological information to be gleaned from this seemingly innocuous byproduct. So a spectrometer was brought in to identify and classify the chemicals present in the smoke samples. And the results are astounding.

Takats and his team analyzed tissue samples from 302 patients, creating a library of both cancerous and non-cancerous tissue from the brain, liver, stomach, colon, breast, and lungs. So when a new patient is being cut open, the information that the iKnife retrieves can immediately be compared to those thousands of reference samples, and a prognosis is available in three seconds. Just three seconds, as compared to the traditional route which takes upwards of a half-hour.

The knife was tested in real-time on 91 patients and those patients’ tissues were correctly identified in every single case, as backed up by the usual tests. They’re hoping to begin a clinical trial soon to test whether surgeons having such up-to-the-second analysis will actually improve their patients’ surgeries.

“In cancer surgery, you want to take out as little healthy tissue as possible,” said Lord Darzi, study co-author and Professor of Surgery at Imperial, “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. This study shows that the iKnife has the potential to do this, and the impact on cancer surgery could be enormous.”

Not only equipped to detect cancerous tissue, the iKnife is capable of divulging a host of information about the patients, including bacteria present. Takas also proved the knife solves one of the oldest mysteries of the world: telling the difference between beef and horsemeat. These are truly wonderful times we live in, people.