This smart surgical knife could save your life - but I hope you never need it

September 14, 2015
Volume 12    |   Issue 110

Even though the most important factors for health are lifestyle based, medicine still has fantastic technology that can help you live longer. And now there's an incredible new technology being developed that I hope you never have to encounter.  No, it's not dangerous or likely to harm you.  It's not toxic or habit-forming.  In fact, it could save your life.

So why do I hope you never encounter it?

This tool, called the iKnife, is being developed to help surgeons improve their precision when removing cancerous tumors. Sure it's true that 90% of cancers are avoidable with a healthy lifestyle, but it's no absolute guarantee. I certainly hope you never find yourself having to undergo such a surgery.  But if you do, I hope that the iKnife will be ready for your doctor to use.

You see, surgeons have likened trying to remove cancerous tissue to driving blind. Cancer cells don't advertise; it's impossible for surgeons to tell the difference between healthy tissue and a tumor just by looking at it. During surgery, they're relying on pictures taken prior to the surgery with medical imaging devices. It's no wonder that in 30% of breast cancer operations, tumor tissue gets left behind.

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Professor Zoltan Takats of Imperial College, London, wants to change that. So he invented the iKnife, a device that can provide immediate feedback on whether or not the tissue being cut is cancerous. The iKnife works by burning through tissue with an electric charge. As it does this, the burned tissue gives off smoke. The smoke is analyzed in a spectrometer that compares its chemical signature to a database of thousands of cancerous and non-cancerous tissues.  It can usually tell the surgeons what type of tissue they’re cutting within two seconds.

Not only will this help surgeons remove all the cancerous tissue, it will also help them avoid cutting away healthy tissue unnecessarily. While this is important in any type of surgery, in neurosurgery the implications are enormously significant, as losing more brain tissue than is absolutely needed can have tremendous effects of one's quality of life. The knife's ability to remove more cancer tissue also decreases the likelihood of the tumor returning and the need for a second operation.

Takats is continuing to fine-tune the iKnife and believes that it will be ready to begin testing in randomized physical trials by next year.

I'm excited about this new tool and share Takats' hope that it will revolutionize cancer surgery. While I want us all to take as many steps as possible to prevent cancer, we cannot eliminate its risk entirely. The iKnife may be a way to make the difficult process of cancer treatment a bit more manageable.

Yours for better health,


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