Experimental Cancer Knife Improves Tumor Removal in Study

An experimental “intelligent knife” that allows surgeons to distinguish between healthy and cancerous tissue when they are operating on tumors has potential to make the surgery faster and more precise, U.K. doctors said.

The “iKnife” was 100 percent accurate in diagnosing the tissues in 91 patients, according to a study published today by doctors at Imperial College London in the journal Science Translational Medicine. It was at least as reliable as tissue testing, which takes 20 to 30 minutes. The device isn’t commercially available and requires further testing in large groups of patients, the doctors said.

The iKnife combines an existing electrosurgery knife with a mass spectrometer. It uses electric current to cut tissue, which produces smoke that’s sucked into a tube and fed into the spectrometer. The instrument analyzes its molecular composition and software matches it to a known tissue type, telling a surgeon in two or three seconds what the knife is cutting.

“The surgeon on the spot has to make a decision about where to cut and what to remove,” Zoltan Takats, the device’s inventor and a specialist in medical mass spectrometry at Imperial College London, said at a press conference. “The result of mass spectrometry is immediately compared to a large database. Based on this we can give feedback to the surgeon.”

The study was funded by the U.K. National Institute for Health Research, the Imperial Biomedical Research Centre, the European Research Council and the Hungarian National Office for Research and Technology. Takats’s company, Medimass Ltd., has received investment from Euroventures Hungary BV, a Hungarian venture capital firm, he said.

Takats and his company are in discussions with Waters Corp., a Milford, Massachusetts-based maker of life-science equipment, he said. Imperial Innovations Group Plc, a U.K. technology commercialization and investment company, is also talking with Takats and Medimass about the iKnife, said Jonathan Wilkinson, senior technology licensing executive at Imperial Innovations.

The iKnife will be tested in hundreds of people with lung, brain and colorectal cancer, said Jeremy Nicholson, head of the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London.

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