Removing cancerous tumors from a patient is a very precise science, and it can be very difficult for surgeons to determine where tumors begin and end. That’s why chemist Zoltan Takats and his team of researchers from the medical school at Imperial College London designed the iKnife, a brilliant scalpel that can help physicians determine whether the tissues they’re removing are cancerous. The knife could save precious time in the operating room, and it could ultimately make surgeries much faster, safer and more effective.
During surgeries, if a surgeon has a question about whether a certain tissue is cancerous or not, the only way to know definitively is to interrupt the surgery for a lab test. That means that patients must remain under anesthesia longer, which could lead to and it slows down the entire surgery process. If tests prove successful, the iKife could prevent those interruptions.
Takats’ high-tech knife can smell smoke produced when it cuts through different types of tissue, which tells it what the ratios of certain lipids are, enabling it to determine whether tissues are cancerous or not. “One can sample a bit of tissue and the result is displayed on the screen in a second. It allows fast analysis and more sampling points,” says Takats. Although Takats acknowledges that the smoke is “a very nasty” tarry mixture, the vapor containing ionized molecules is just what the device needs to be able to identify the lipid profiles in different types of tissues.
For their study, Takats and his team collected about 3,000 tissue samples from 302 cancer patients. The team reported that the results from the iKnife perfectly matched the results of traditional pathology tests 100 percent of the time. Still, much more testing must be done before the knife can be used in surgical applications.