AHSC partners are working together to evaluate a new surgical technology, the “intelligent knife” or iKnife for use in cancer surgery. Surgery is often the first line of treatment for many tumour types and previously, complete removal of the tumour would be down to the judgement of the surgeon and then subsequent confirmation by a pathologist. The iKnife allows the surgeon to know, in real time, whether all the tumour has been removed during the surgical procedure.
In developing the iKnife, chemists, biologists and clinicians from Imperial College capitalized on a well-established surgical tool, the electrosurgical knife, which uses an electrical current to rapidly heat tissue, cutting through it while minimising blood loss. In doing so it vaporises tissue, creating smoke that is normally sucked away by extraction systems. Imperial scientists realised that this smoke was a rich source of biological information and therefore they connected the electrosurgical knife to a chemical analyser.
Initial studies on patients were undertaken at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and these focussed on whether the iKnife’s real-time chemical profiling could be used to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous tissue. The results of these studies were successful and now new clinical research studies are being extended to the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to see whether the iKnife can improve surgical outcomes for a wide range of cancers (e.g. prostate, head and neck, colorectal, testicular and ovarian cancer).