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New surgical knife detects tumours

OPERATION: The "iKnife" could help surgeons accurately clear cancer

SURGEONS OPERATING on cancer patients could soon be aided by using a new “intelligent” knife that helps find tumours.

Dubbed the “iKnife”, the tool was developed by scientists at Imperial College London – the designers hope the surgical instrument will prevent surgeons missing cancerous tissue in the patient when removing tumours.

The knife, which has been described in a science journal as being able to accurately identify cancerous areas, is currently undergoing clinical trials.

Patients often having tumours removed have to go back for more surgery when bits of tumour have been missed and re-grow – it is reported that one in five breast cancer patients must return to have tumours completely cleared.

Cutting through tissue with a hot blade, the knife gives off smoke that is sucked into a “nose” device, a mass spectrometer, which is able to distinguish whether the blade is going through healthy or cancerous tissue.

The system’s inventor at Imperial, Dr Zoltan Takats, said: “These results provide compelling evidence that the iKnife can be applied in a wide range of cancer surgery procedures.

“It provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn't been possible before.

“We believe it has the potential to reduce tumour recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive.”

The university’s head of surgery and cancer, professor Jermey Nicholson, said: “The iKnife is one manifestation of several advanced chemical profiling technologies developed in our labs that are contributing to surgical decision-making and real-time diagnostics.

“These methods are part of a new framework of patient journey optimisation that we are building at Imperial to help doctors diagnose disease, select the best treatments, and monitor individual patients’ progress as part our personalised healthcare plan,” added Nicholson, who co-authored the study into the knife’s system.

Trials of the new technology are being carried out at three London hospitals – Charing Cross, Hammersmith and St Mary’s.

Health minister Lord Howe said: “We want to be among the best countries in the world at treating cancer and know that new technologies have the potential to save lives.

“The iKnife could reduce the need for people needing secondary operations for cancer and improve accuracy”.

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