Posted by Allison Boyer


Could a new smart surgery tool called the iKnife help save the lives of patients with cancer? 

Surgery and other medical processes are getting more advanced by the day, but a new knife takes the cake when it comes to “smart” tools in a hospital setting. According to reports on Mashable, and inventor at the Imperial College London is developing a tool known as iKnife, which is able to detect if a surgeon is cutting cancerous cells. As far as technology in hospitals goes, this is pretty cool because doctors will get real-time feedback instead of having to wait for biopsy results.

In many types of cancer, patients are treated initially by a surgeon removing cancerous tumors. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell what is tumor and what is not.  The typical process is to send the removed tumor to a lab to analyze the edges so doctors know if they got all the cancerous cells or missed some, but this process takes at least 30 minutes, all while the patient is open on the surgical table. Doctors often remove more tissue than necessary to ensure they get it all the first time, rather than having to wait an addition 30 minutes to study a second piece of tissue. With iKnife, doctors get feedback in about three seconds. How’s that for smart surgery?!

And keep in mind that the 30 minute time frame is the best case scenario. When is the last time you saw a doctor for any reason and they weren’t running late? From personal experience, I can tell you that hospitals are usually backed up, so unless your appointment is first thing in the morning, you’re probably going to wait. The same thing happens in the labs–work gets backed up and patients are open on the table a lot longer than they should be.

The iKnife works by analyzing the smoke that all electrosurgical knives produce. It will tell a doctor when to keep cutting to remove the cancer and when to stop to minimize remove of healthy cells. In an initial test of 91 tissue sames, the iKnife was right 100% of the time. The university is now seeking to do clinical trials to move this tool one step closer to mainstream use in hospitals around the world.

The biggest downside of iKnife is the cost. At approximately $380,000 per unit, these aren’t cheap. However, the iKnife technology has applications outside of just detecting cancer cells. It also has the potential to tell the difference between different types of meat, identify bacteria types in tissue, determining if a tissue has bad blood supply, and more. This means that the technology could be commercialized in the near future–and if that is the case, the price tag will likely drop.

Of course, with any new medical technology, there’s a good chance this project will hit some bumps on the road before ever making it to the market. More testing has to be done before it can be deemed significantly effective enough for hospitals to make the purchase, even at a lower price point. But this is a project worth watching if you’re interested in healthcare technology. With any luck, the iKnife or projects like it will be helping surgeons save lives in the not-too-distant future.

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Allison Boyer is the Online Education Coordinator for New Media Expo (NMX), where you can learn more about blogging, podcasting, web TV, and social business. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister.