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iKnife: Sniffing Out Cancer

Electrocautery surgical knives are widely used in operating rooms to seal incisions with heat and thereby reduce bleeding. Now a new, “intelligent” version has been developed that can analyze the smoke generated during the cutting/cauterizing process to determine whether the tissue being cut is healthy or cancerous.

The smoke is sampled and analyzed by a mass spectrometer which identifies particles based on their mass and charge. One type of charged particle commonly found in surgical smoke is fat, and different tissues and cancers have characteristic proportions of different types of fat. So, by comparing samples to a database of nearly 3,000 known standards, cancers and other tissues can be identified with about 95 percent accuracy. Results are delivered in 2.5 seconds or less.

The iKnife will enable surgeons to quickly ascertain the outer margins of a tumor so it can be removed as completely as possible while maximizing the amount of healthy tissue left intact. The device will be undergoing formal clinical trials to confirm whether it improves clinical outcomes for surgical patients.

For information: Zoltan Takats, Imperial College London, Computational Systems Medicine, South Kensington Campus, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Sixth Floor, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom; phone: +44 (0)20 7589-5111; email:; Web site:

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