APR 02, 2016 9:19 AM PDT

Next-Gen ‘Smart Scalpel' Can Locate Cancer in The Brain

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
In the operating room, every incision has to be precise. This is especially true for operations involving the removal of cancerous tissues from the brain, where even a single millimeter off could lead to disastrous consequences. To help brain surgeons navigate such operations with more precision and accuracy, engineers from Belgium announced the development of a ‘smart scalpel’ that can detect normal versus cancerous tissues.
 
Prototype used on pig tissues

The ‘smart scalpel’ has a small design, similar to a surgical knife, but has a small spherical tip with a diameter of less than one millimeter. And while it’s called a scalpel, the device is more of a biosensor, as it uses tactile sensors to provide information on the mechanical characteristics of the tissue. The device is based on the piezoelectric effect, which converts mechanical characteristics like pressure, temperature, and force, into electrical charge.
 
According to David Oliva Uribe, who spent the last six years developing the device’s design, the ‘smart scalpel’ provides a level of precision that far exceeds a surgeon’s touch alone. "Although imaging techniques such as an MRI and an ultrasound locate a tumor accurately before the surgery, during the cranial opening and throughout the surgical procedure there are many factors that can lead to the loss of this position, so the resection (the removing of the tumor) depends on the experience, as well as the senses of sight and touch of the surgeon," said Uribe.
 
The ‘smart scalpel’ is designed to facilitate situations where the brain tumor is already diagnosed and the only recourse is removal. In such cases, it alerts doctors, in real time, the state of the tissue as it makes contact with the sensor. The results are supposedly obtained in less than 30 seconds, allowing doctors to make decisions quickly and efficiently.
 
In experimental tests with artificial tumors and brain tissues from pigs, the prototype purportedly performed well. It could soon be moved to clinical trials. Uribe also hopes to adapt the device to detect tumor tissues in other parts of the body.
 
Uribe’s ‘smart scalpel’ is not the first of its kind. In 2013, researchers at the Imperial College in London developed a similar next-generation surgical knife that too has the purpose of detecting cancer tissues in real time. Also dubbed an “intelligent scalpel,” the iKnife cuts through tissue with heat and analyzes the resulting biological smoke to alert surgeons on whether the tissue is cancerous. In a publication that detailed the iKnife’s design, the research team reported a 100 percent success rate in diagnosing cancerous tissues 91 patients.
 
There’s been no public mention from either group whether their ‘smart scalpel’ designs could be combined. 
 

Additional source: Science Daily
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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