A smart scalpel which is able to detect the presence of cancer cells beneath layers skin, blood and muscle have been developed by US researchers.
The bottle-top sized microcavity laser developed by the US department of Energy will enable surgeons to operate more accurately on tumours without cutting large amounts of tissue.
This device could detect which cells were cancerous by the amount of protein present and was able to distinguish between normal human brain cells and their malignant form.
At present the only way to tell if cancerous cells are present is to stain tissue samples, which may take hours this scalpel will be able to tell the surgeon when to stop cutting.
The brain is a particularly critical place to know when enough tissue has been removed, said project leader Paul Gourley. It works by incorporating blood cells into the lasing process, rather than shining a laser light upon the cell.
A vertical microlaser beam enters individual cells as they are pushed by a micropump through tiny channels cut into the glass surface of the device.
Because cancer cells contain more protein than normal cells, their greater density changes (refracts) the speed of the laser light passing through them. This change is registered as a difference in output frequency by a receiver and transmitted by optical fibre to a laptop computer.
An algorithm translates the data into a graph that, changes moment by moment, and provides surgeons with easily readable peaks and valleys that clearly depict when blood pumped from the incision has been cleared of cancerous cells.
In a surgical scalpel situation, an aspirator would vacuum fluid from the incision to the microcavity laser enclosed in the scalpel's handle. Information would then be transmitted from the scalpel to the computer by optical fibre.This new recovery might prove a boon for the surgeons.