Study shows knife that can ‘smell tumours’, detects womb cancer ‘in seconds’: Here's how it works

Study shows knife that can ‘smell tumours’, detects womb cancer ‘in seconds’: Here's how it works

The first study to test the invention was conducted nearly a decade ago, by collecting tissue samples from 91 patients with 100 per cent accuracy.

Scientists at Imperial College London, UK have found that the surgical knife that can “smell tumours”, effectively detects womb cancer within seconds. The breakthrough could enable thousands of women to get an earlier diagnosis paving the way for “new diagnostic pathways”. 

“The iKnife reliably diagnosed endometrial cancer in seconds, with a diagnostic accuracy of 89%, minimising the current delays for women whilst awaiting a histopathological diagnosis,” said the researchers in the finding published in the journal Cancers. Notably, the iKnife is already being used to treat breast and brain cancers, reported the Guardian, and now it can also accurately detect the presence of endometrial cancer. 

How does iKnife work?

The first study to test the invention was conducted nearly a decade ago, by collecting tissue samples from 91 patients with 100 per cent accuracy. Notably, the iKnife uses "electrosurgery" a method invented in the 1920s and commonly used today. "Electrosurgical knives use an electrical current to rapidly heat tissue, cutting through it while minimising blood loss. In doing so, they vaporise the tissue, creating smoke that is normally sucked away by extraction systems," the Imperial College in a statement had said at the time.  

iKnife which analyses the smoke emitted from the biopsy tissue when it is vaporised after being removed from the womb. It does so by using electrical currents to differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue. Invented by Dr Zoltan Takats, of the Imperial College, who was also a part of the study published last year in November, believed that this smoke would be a rich source of biological information. 

According to the recent study, iKnife was used on 150 women with suspected womb cancer. Subsequently, researchers, in order to determine the effectiveness, compared the results to the current methods of diagnosis which typically take at least two weeks to show the results. 

What are its implications?

"In cancer surgery, you want to take out as little healthy tissue as possible, but you have to ensure that you remove all of the cancer. There is a real need for technology that can help the surgeon determine which tissue to cut out and which to leave in," said Lord Darzi, who now holds the Paul Hamlyn Chair of Surgery at the Imperial College and co-authored the 2013 study, in a statement.

He added, "This study shows that the iKnife has the potential to do this, and the impact on cancer surgery could be enormous.”

Meanwhile, speaking with the Guardian, in the context of the recent study, Athena Lamnisos, the chief executive of the UK-based Eve Appeal cancer charity which also funded the research, spoke about how stressful it is to get the test, particularly for cancer. “When you hear that the ‘c’-word is even a possibility, the days can’t pass quickly enough until a clinician gives you the all clear,” said Lamnisos.  

She added, “Womb cancer has one ‘red flag’ symptom of postmenopausal bleeding that should always get checked out on a two-week referral from your GP. To wait a further two weeks for the results can be really hard for patients.” 

Lamnisos also spoke about the different reasons for abnormal vaginal bleeding with womb cancer being just one of them, therefore, “the ability to provide a diagnostic test that rules cancer in or out immediately, and with accuracy, could make such a positive difference.” 

Study shows knife that can ‘smell tumours’, detects womb cancer ‘in seconds’: Here's how it works
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Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, professor and the lead researcher of the team that created iKnife, echoed a similar sentiment of the benefits of early detection, diagnosis and treatment as well as avoiding weeks of anxiety. 

“With its high diagnostic accuracy of 89% and positive predictive value of 94%, one could immediately reassure the person of the very low likelihood of having cancer if the iKnife result is negative and expedite further tests and scans and treatment for people whose biopsies indicate presence of cancer,” said the lead researcher of the study, as per the Guardian. 

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