Intelligent knife developed in Tampere identifies the operated tissue

Submitted on Thu, 05/03/2018 - 09:50

Cancer surgeons strive to remove all traces of a tumour in a single operation, but it is not easy for them to determine the boundary between malignant and healthy tissue by sight. Published in the prestigious Annals of Biomedical Engineering, new research conducted by Anton Kontunen is paving the way for a new surgical innovation that improves the accuracy of cancer surgery.

Global cancer statistics reveal that one in five patients who undergo breast cancer or prostate surgery are left with some residual cancer tissue at the surgical site. The presence of residual cancer cells significantly affects the prognosis of patients, often necessitating an additional procedure. For breast cancer patients, the standard option is usually a mastectomy. Similar challenges affect, for example, the cleaning of infected wounds, as there are no objective tools to assess the extent of infected tissue. Recent research conducted by Anton Kontunen demonstrates that an analysis of the smoke generated during electrosurgery helps improve the accuracy of surgery.

Electrosurgery, also known as diathermy, is one of the most common energy-based surgical methods. In electrosurgery, high-frequency electric current passes through tissue to cut or coagulate it. The tissue is literally vaporized and dispersed into the air. As this surgical smoke contains small particles that are harmful to human health, it is removed using a smoke evacuation system.

"However, small particles are only one of the components of surgical smoke. It is also made up of small, volatile molecules that are a rich source of information on the excised tissue," says Anton Kontunen, who is working towards his doctoral degree at Tampere University of Technology (TUT).

The research was conducted by electrosurgically cutting ten different types of porcine tissue. The surgical smoke produced during cutting was analysed using differential ion mobility spectrometry (DMS). The results are very promising.

"The tissue samples were identified with 95 per cent accuracy," says Kontunen.  

In previous research, the molecules contained in surgical smoke have been analysed using mass spectrometry, which must be coupled with expensive vacuum pumps. Researchers in Tampere have employed ion mobility spectrometry to explore volatile molecules for years. The method resembles mass spectrometry but requires no vacuum system and is therefore much more affordable and reliable. Ion mobility spectrometry is an established technology that is used in applications that require utmost robustness and low lifetime costs. As the results show great promise, the researchers have shifted their focus towards clinical applications.

"We've been analysing cancerous tumours excised from human patients for about a year now and are closer to achieving similar levels of accuracy. I strongly believe that this technology will benefit patients and surgeons on a daily basis in the future," says Professor of Surgery and head of the research team Niku Oksala from the University of Tampere.

The research was conducted in collaboration between researchers from the University of Tampere and Tampere University of Technology.

As the results hold commercial potential, the start-up company Olfactomics has been established to bring the technology to market.

The results were published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering:

Anton Kontunen, tel. +358 50 4948175,
Niku Oksala, tel. +358 40 1901487,