One of the biggest problems with cancer is getting rid of it. Often, that involves surgery, but surgeons can have a difficult time separating cancerous tissue from healthy, and mid-operation analysis techniques take a little too much time to be used constantly. So a group of medical students have invented the iKnife, a scalpel that finds cancer as it cuts through it.
And how does the iKnife pull this off? By sniffing the tissue, essentially. The iKnife is built around the concept of electrosurgery, which is essentially using a high-frequency electrical field to perform surgical work by heating tissue. As anybody who has used a grill can tell you, if you heat flesh, it gives off vapor. And that’s where the iKnife gets to work.
Sensors in the iKnife analyze the vapors around the tool, looking for specific chemical markers that tag it as healthy tissue or cancerous. Furthermore, in tests it cuts the time for doing this down from thirty minutes or so to mere seconds. So, essentially, a surgeon can cut out a tumor, and the iKnife can tell him if he got everything, or if he needs to cut some more.
It’s difficult to overstate how important this could be. One of the reasons medicine keeps getting better is that diagnostics are becoming faster, simpler, and more refined. Especially with a complicated illness such as cancer, it’s crucial to have accurate information as quickly as possible. The iKnife, provided everything holds up during testing, could turn out to be a valuable tool for surgeons and keep more of us alive longer with better health.
Also, let’s face it, if you have to be operated on for a potentially life-threatening disease, you might as well be operated on with the coolest gadgets a surgeon can find. We’re just saying, it improves the experience.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.