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PostPosted: 28 Jun 2016 21:29 
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Scientists at Imperial College , London are planning medical trials of robotic technologies for surgery . The technologies include an iKnife that can sniff smoke as it cuts the tissue and analyse the smoke chemically to indicate if the tissue being cut is tumour tissue or healthy tissue. This would help surgeons determine the exact edges of the tumour and if tumour clearance was adequate when excising it.

The iKnife sucks surgical smoke into a mass spectrometer, which then indicates whether the cut tissue is cancerous or healthy instantly.

The souped-up scalpel works by analyzing lipids, the fatty molecules that make up much of the cell membrane. In the past few years, chemists have shown that ratios of certain lipids can be used to identify various biological tissues, including tumors. But this requires first removing and preparing the tissue for a technique called mass spectrometry, which analyzes the mass and structure of charged molecules.

Hungarian chemist Zoltán Takáts created a method by directly analyzing the smoke created by the electrosurgical knives that surgeons use to cut and cauterize blood vessels. Although the smoke is "a very nasty" tarry mixture, Takáts says, he realized that one component is a vapor containing ionized molecules—just what mass spectrometry needs. His team has shown that the lipid profiles identified by piping this vapor from an electrosurgical knife to a mass spectrometer correspond to different tissue types from animals.

Now, his group at Imperial College London, together with Jeremy Nicholson, a biochemist who heads Imperial College's department of surgery and cancer, has tested what they've dubbed the "intelligent knife," or iKnife, in the operating room. The team collected nearly 3000 tissue samples from about 300 cancer patients' surgeries, had pathologists identify if a sample was healthy tissue or a type of cancer, then matched up each result with the lipid profile they got by touching the iKnife to the same sample. They showed that the iKnife could distinguish normal and tumor tissues from different organs, such as breast, liver, and brain, and could even identify the origin of a tumor as when cutting a metastatic tumour.

The researchers next tried out the iKnife during 81 actual cancer surgeries using the 3000-sample database as a reference. The iKnife results matched pathology lab results after the surgery for cancerous and normal tissues for nearly all patients, the researchers report online today in Science Translational Medicine. With only a 1- to 3-second delay for an iKnife readout, "it's real-time information" Takáts says. That feedback could minimize the time a patient is under anesthesia and allow surgeons to work faster and more effectively. The team's next step is to conduct clinical trials to find out if using the iKnife helps patients develop fewer recurring tumors and live longer.

Although researchers are working on other ways to detect tumor margins in real time, those ways often require injecting a patient with a special dye to highlight the tumor. The iKnife is simpler because the process "is no different from what [physicians] normally do," Nicholson says. Surgeons will monitor a traffic light-like video display as they cut, he explains, with red indicating tumor cells, green healthy tissue, and yellow something in between.


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