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Cancer-Sniffing Scalpel

July 30, 2013

A new surgical knife can tell if it’s cutting a tumor or healthy tissue.



A cancer-sniffing scalpel. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A new scalpel can tell surgeons whether they’re cutting a tumor or healthy tissue. British and Hungarian researchers just finished a trial in 81 patients. According to mass spectrometrist Zoltan Takats of Imperial College, London, it’s impossible to tell the exact boundaries of a tumor just by looking. To make sure they’ve got it all, surgeons have to run tests on tissue samples.

ZOLTAN TAKATS (Imperial College, London):

And it does matter whether the surgeon has to wait like, half an hour, forty minutes for this result, or have to wait only for a second.

The scalpel, called the iKnife, is connected to a long tube, which captures vaporized chemicals from the cells it slices into. The tube feeds into a mass spectrometer, which flags cancer’s chemical signatures. In Takats’ study, the knife proved just as accurate as more time-consuming tests. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Schematic of a surgical knife connected to a mass spectrometer that tells surgeons whether they're cutting into a tumor or healthy tissue. (Science Translational Medicine/AAAS)