July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

“Intelligent” knife enables surgeons to identify cancerous tissue during tumour extraction

1024px-Lymph_node_NPC wikipediaA leading research group at Imperial College London has developed an ‘intelligent’ knife (iKnife) for use in cancer surgery. This novel technique enables surgeons to distinguish between cancerous tissue and healthy tissue in real-time during the operation.

Normally, when a primary breast cancer tumour is removed, one in five patients require further surgery to remove residual cancerous tissue. The iKnife acts to restrict the amount of healthy tissue that is removed during surgery, and make sure all cancerous tissue is extracted. Dr Zoltan Takats, the leader of iKnife research, stated that “[The iKnife] has the potential to reduce tumour recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive.”

Like many surgical knives, this technology relies on the use of heat to remove sections of tissue during surgery. The innovation of the iKnife lies in its ability to detect subtle differences in cellular markers within cancerous tissue. This is realised through the vaporization of the heated tissue sample at the end of the knife. The vapour is then analysed by an interconnected mass spectrometry unit in-theatre.

Currently, surgeons are required to send biopsies to the laboratory for testing to assess the presence of cancerous biomarkers. These procedures can take up to half an hour. In many cases, these screens are carried out while the patient is still in theatre under anaesthetic, increasing the risk of surgical complications. Using the iKnife removes this requirement to send biopsies during surgery, reducing this risk of surgical complication.

‘iKnife’ technology not only reduces costs incurred by laboratory biopsy analysis, but will also help to reduce the number of secondary surgeries and the costs associated with this.

Continued development of this research seeks to diversify the application of the technology to various forms of cancer. Work has already begun to create a library of biomarkers from 302 patients undergoing surgery who have been diagnosed with stomach, colon, liver, lung or brain cancer. Trials utilising this analytical method are taking place in various hospitals around London including Hammersmith, Charing Cross and St Mary’s.

Image: Lymph node excision (Wikimedia Commons)