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Biotech Medicine Science

Electro-Scalpel "Sniffs Out" Tumors 43

Posted by samzenpus
from the smells-like-health dept.
TechReviewAl writes "Researchers in Germany have developed a surgical tool that uses chemical analysis to identify cancerous tissue as a surgeon cuts. The instrument uses a modified mass spectrometer — a device that uses ionized molecules to perform very accurate chemical analysis — to pinpoint tumors so that surgeons can make sure they remove everything. Mass spectrometry has been used to study biopsied biological samples before, but never used in-situ. The key was to harness ionized gas already produced by the electro-scalpel."
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Electro-Scalpel "Sniffs Out" Tumors

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  • by cjfs (1253208) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:48AM (#29754547) Homepage Journal

    "A high-voltage nitrogen jet is not compatible with the human body," says Takáts.

    Well, I'm glad we've gotten past those experiments.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thanshin (1188877)

      "A high-voltage nitrogen jet is not compatible with the human body," says Takáts.

      Well, I'm glad we've gotten past those experiments.

      Indeed. You got here just in time for our next experiment.

      We'll perform this simple apendectomy. WITH A CHAINSAW!

      • by cjfs (1253208)

        We'll perform this simple apendectomy. WITH A CHAINSAW!

        Well I suppose if dentists still use drills... wait a sec - Bruce? [imdb.com]

      • I was just thinking that sniffing out tumors doesn't really require an intelligent electro-scalpel. It could also be done with a large axe flying in the general direction of a patient.

        • Thats the thing about cancer treatment. The goal is to almost kill the patient and to entirely kill the cancer. Not the other way around. Being almost killed is no fun BTW.

          • by Thanshin (1188877)

            Being almost killed is no fun BTW.

            It depends.

            You know those senators who die sexing a female of distracted morals? I'd bet almost dying's pretty ok in that situation.

            • Unless they're dying from the shock of realising she was only after the money/power.

              • by c6gunner (950153)

                Somehow I doubt that's an issue. They're more likely to die from the shock of realizing that "she" has a penis.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:53AM (#29754581) Journal

    They actually found a use for the smoke that an electric cautery produces. Amazing.

    -jcr

    • This thing is definitely going to go 'Ping'. Damned biggest scalpel I've ever seen.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:47AM (#29754761) Homepage Journal

      Yeah. Having seen what chemotherapy did to my father in law a couple of months ago I will be asking for surgery if I need cancer treatment in the future, no matter how invasive it is.

      Maybe they can build it into an arthroscope to get into those hard to reach locations.

      Also I wonder if they could use it for localised radiotherapy. The GC tells you where to embed the tiny radioactive sources.

      • by blueturffan (867705) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @09:52AM (#29757455)

        My sister finished chemo and radiation about a year ago. In her case, she needed two surgeries to remove the tumors, and the chemo/radiation was to make sure they got anything that was too small to be seen with PET scans.

        I don't think surgery or chemo is necessarily an either/or option.

      • Uuum, please don't feet attacked, but... wouldn't it be the best thing to prevent getting it in the first place?

        I know that in medical circles, prevention is mostly a taboo, and you can't prevent anything anyway (according to them). I don't think I need to tell you to ignore them on that. It's your life after all! :)

        I am, for example, horrified by an ex-friend of mine who saw her mother lose a lung because of the smoking. And what was the first thing she did? Smoke even more! I mean, I know that cigarette a

        • It pretty pathetic. At the hospitals here there are always people hanging around outside the front entrance dressed in in gowns and towing IV drip devices. They stagger outside for a puff.

          My wife's dad died of Nasopharyngeal carcinoma [medicinenet.com] and if you google around the risk factors are to be asian and to like eating fish. He belonged to both of those groups and was 75 years old, so the cancer wasn't entirely a surprise.

          He was noted in the family for insisting on sea food, and that may have been a factor in his ot

    • What is the the smoke used for?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sconeu (64226)

      And when it finds healthy tissue, the computer says, "IT'S NOT A TUMAH!"

  • Yes, but... (Score:4, Informative)

    by vegiVamp (518171) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @05:58AM (#29755069) Homepage
    The way I read it, it tells you what tissue you're cutting *when you're cutting it*, not beforehand. It doesn't "sniff out" cancer as much as that it tells you wether or not the thing you're currently damaging is cancer or not.
    • by unixan (800014)

      The way I read it, it tells you what tissue you're cutting *when you're cutting it*,

      It may take society a decade or more to figure out whether this tool is a net positive benefit to society.

      Meanwhile, I anticipate the following problems:

      • Does this device fade over time, misleading a surgeon into finishing too soon?
      • In the reverse, is there a way to ensure the ensure this tool isn't too sensitive, misleading a surgeon into removing whole "diseased" organs?
      • ... Could this device even turn surgery into an addictive video game [google.com] of hunt-the-cancer?
    • by Bakkster (1529253)

      Assuming the device can be turned down to a very short 'probe' pulse, that damage could be minimalized and not much worse than would normally be encountered with any moderately invasive procedure. Losing on the order of 10s of cells for accurate diagnosis of the immediate area of thousands of cells is a good step.

      Personally, I'd rather the surgeon have the ability to detect and remove all of a cancer from my body with only a little bit of extra scar tissue in the surrounding areas, rather than miss some o

      • by vegiVamp (518171)
        Trouble is that it doesn't "sniff out" the cancer, so while yes, it prevents removal of excessive amounts of good tissue, contrarily to what the headline implies it doesn't guide the surgeon to the bad tissue - he still needs to visually identify it, or alternately prod every bit in sight.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by smellsofbikes (890263)
          It *might* be possible to combine this with an ablative short-pulse laser, so you hit the area with a quick laser pulse, which will remove something less than one cell-depth of tissue, and then analyze the resultant burst of materials. Problem with that is lasers are sufficiently destructive it might be hard to find much useful stuff in the debris, compared to the non-micro-destructive materials released via electro-cautery. But mass spec is pretty amazing in its sensitivity. Since nobody else has yet ta
          • by vegiVamp (518171)
            Thank you for that. I finally know what a mass spectrometer does, now, and why it's named that :-)
        • The headline is just part of the normal scienitific reporting genre. This is something that means we can do something better than we did it before. A small advancement, yes, but still advancement.

  • by bucklesl (73547)
    But can it also disable Cybermen?
  • Cool, it's like a game of "cold... warmer... warmer... hot!" for cancer surgery... I can play that game!
  • instantly flash on the board game Operation?
  • Cool, although it has to be said that tumours (from the Latin, for 'swelling') can often be felt by the surgeon and often it is not difficult to delineate the margins required for a tumour. This would be most useful in cases of nonpalpable lesions (like a very tiny breast cancer or pre-cancer). The linked article does not reference any original publications, so it is difficult to know what they used as a control, what compounds they tested for (as the above posters have mentioned), if they were just compari

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