New intelligent surgical knife detects cancer when it cuts into human tissue

606x341_232568_iknife-can-sniff-out-cancer-tissueResearchers at London’s Imperial College have developed an electrosurgical knife that recognizes cancer cells as it cuts through them. During an operation, a surgeon uses an electrosurgical knife to remove tissue identified as cancerous (by an MRI scan, for example). Until now, doctors could never be certain during a procedure whether those cells were benign or malignant, which frequently led to the removal of either too much or too little tissue.

Using the iKnife, as the device is currently called, the heat and smoke released during tissue vaporization is instantly analyzed in a device specifically developed for the task. In the past, this smoke was simply sucked away by extraction systems—until scientists discovered that it contains a wealth of biologically relevant clues.

By analyzing the smoke, the device can determine whether the cancerous tissue is benign or malignant. The analysis takes just three seconds, enabling the doctor to decide on the spot whether additional tissue should be removed. The iKnife’s creators hope the device will reduce the amount of healthy tissue extracted, giving patients a better chance for a quick and healthy recovery.

The iKnife currently costs £ 200,000 to manufacture, but its developers—who have already tested the device on more than three hundred patients with great success—expect the cost to drop dramatically when it goes into commercial production.