A demonstration of the "intelligent knife" at St. Mary's Hospital in London, July 17, 2013 (Photo: AP)
Scientists at the Imperial College London have invented a new surgical knife that can virtually "smell" cancerous tissue.
The "intelligent knife" or "iKnife" is designed to overcome the common problem of leaving behind pieces of tumours in the patient, which can then regrow into cancerous cells.
Surgery is often the best hope for curing cancer - but even the most skilled surgeons risk leaving some parts of a tumour behind.
The iKnife is actually a modified version of an existing surgical knife that uses heat to cut through tissue.
The team that built the iKnife added a sensor that sucks in smoke from the patient's burning tissue and detects the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue.
Within seconds, surgeons can see whether there is still part of a tumour present.
At the moment, surgeons can send samples for testing while the patient is still undergoing an operation, but that takes significant time.
As well as helping surgeons complete an operation more effectively, the knife may be able to reveal the original site of a cancer that has spread.
The iKnife is currently being tested in clinical trials. Iniitial tests on 91 patients showed that the knife was accurate in determining what type of tissue it was cutting.
"We believe it has the potential to reduce tumour recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive," said Dr. Zoltan Takats, who invented the system.