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Electro-Scalpel "Sniffs Out" Tumors

samzenpus posted about 5 years ago | from the smells-like-health dept.

Biotech 43

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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How far we've come (2, Funny)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29754547)

"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:How far we've come (2, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 5 years ago | (#29754619)

"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!

Re:How far we've come (1)

cjfs (1253208) | about 5 years ago | (#29754737)

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

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

Re:How far we've come (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 5 years ago | (#29754891)

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.

Re:How far we've come (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29755115)

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.

Re:How far we've come (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 5 years ago | (#29755197)

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.

Re:How far we've come (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 5 years ago | (#29759819)

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

Re:How far we've come (1)

c6gunner (950153) | about 5 years ago | (#29781197)

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

That is freakin' brilliant. (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | about 5 years ago | (#29754581)

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


Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 years ago | (#29754725)

This thing is definitely going to go 'Ping'. Damned biggest scalpel I've ever seen.

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29754761)

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.

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (3, Insightful)

blueturffan (867705) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | about 5 years ago | (#29780389)

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 addiction (not only to to tobacco, but mostly to the 600+ partially illegal and/or toxic additives) is stronger than Heroine addiction (I know this because I saw people who got rid of heroine, telling me that even after that, it's still impossible for them to get rid of cigarettes.), but WTF?? After something like that, I'd literally rather die than touch another cigarette!

I hope you can prevent what happened to your father in law. You know what to do: Inform your*self*. :)

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29780589)

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 [] 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 otherwise good health when the cancer was diagnosed.

He got unlucky because he had a rare sensitivity to the chemotherapy drug he was given. It killed his bone marrow stone dead in the space of a few days. Once that happens your immune system crashes and you start to decompose.

I ride a bike to work because the men in my family generally die of heart disease in their 50's. I broke my arm in a crash in July, which is part of the down side of avoiding heart failure.

Having seen several sides of the medical industry in my life I am coming to the view that it is better to be as active as possible and accept the possibility of a sudden death. I am less worried about my own safety now, because I have started to dread being confined to hospital. My biggest fear is probably paralysis. Because it can happen in an accident.

I remember that my grandmother had a stroke at 80, her biggest fear was that she would live for years afterwards. This exact thing happened to her sister several years later. She took five years to die.

Personally I am actively working on transhuman solutions. I don't think the medical industry will solve many problems in our lifetime.

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

cyberzephyr (705742) | about 5 years ago | (#29754785)

What is the the smoke used for?

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 5 years ago | (#29754831)

What is the the smoke used for?

It is fed into a Gas Chromatograph which gives the surgeon feedback about the sort of tissue he is cutting through. Seven years ago I watched an obstetrician operate on my wife with a cutting tool like this. She prefers that I not describe the experience in graphic detail in her presence.

Pocket GC == Tricorder

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

cyberzephyr (705742) | about 5 years ago | (#29765263)

All i can say is WOW. Now with that said i have to say that that sounds very scary.

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (1)

silentcoder (1241496) | about 5 years ago | (#29755339)

This is going to put a whole new twist in magic smoke theory....

Re:That is freakin' brilliant. (2, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | about 5 years ago | (#29757847)

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

Yes (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29754663)

Ah, I see.

A wizard did it.

Everybody knows this (0, Offtopic)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about 5 years ago | (#29754819)

"Cancer" is caused by microscopic goat hairs that Italian terrorists hide in our anus while we sleep. Get rid of the Italians, get rid of the problem is what I say. The Italians should go back to Mexico where they came from.

YUO FAI(L IT (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29754845)

deve7oper5. The Previously thought Track of where

respect (1)

Necroloth (1512791) | about 5 years ago | (#29754871)

I have a lot of respect to bio-engineers who use both engineering knowledge and biochemistry to make medical appliances. I find it difficult enough just as an engineer, let alone having to think about a whole other field of knowledge!

As a normal Slasdhotter, I haven't read the article but from the summary this is a great invention and I hope people like them are appreciated.

Yes, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29754935)

... is it an anti-mass spectrometer?

Yes, but... (3, Informative)

vegiVamp (518171) | about 5 years ago | (#29755069)

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.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

unixan (800014) | about 5 years ago | (#29756479)

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 [] of hunt-the-cancer?

Re:Yes, but... (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | about 5 years ago | (#29757091)

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 of the cancer or remove healthy organs that just looked slightly different.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | about 5 years ago | (#29757665)

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:Yes, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29758159)

From family experience, the way to remove tumors is usually related to their shape - they start out small and grow like a ball, and the surgeon has to cut around it. But it might not always be obvious whether when he is "cutting around" he is actually "cutting through" and hence leaving something behind. So the expected signal from this should ALWAYS be that he is cutting good tissue.

Re:Yes, but... (2, Informative)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 5 years ago | (#29758469)

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 talked about this, what a mass spectrometer does is it relies on molecules that have been fragmented. It uses an electric field to accelerate the fragments that are charged, and shoots them past a magnet. The deflection is a function of the mass. By varying the electric field strength, you can select for what mass you want to have hit the detector, and with computer processing of the results, you can do a surprisingly good job of figuring out what's in the mix based on knowing how things generally break up and the comparative weights of common organic chunks: if you see something of atomic weight 44 you presume you just found a propyl group ((CH3)2CH-) and so forth. So I think it's entirely possible they could make this into something that only does microscopic damage at any one point.

Of course, then I think it'd be nice to hook it up to an x/y scanner and have a computer do the work, so it'd just scan back and forth, and drill in wherever there's a problem until there's no longer a problem: a real-time version of current Mohs Surgery [] that they use for removing skin cancer while minimizing adjacent tissue damage/removal.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

vegiVamp (518171) | about 5 years ago | (#29766547)

Thank you for that. I finally know what a mass spectrometer does, now, and why it's named that :-)

Re:Yes, but... (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 5 years ago | (#29759031)

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.

Well the thing's gotta have a tailpipe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29755169)

The key was to harness ionized gas already produced by the electro-scalpel.

Would this indicate that tumors have tailpipes?

Good question! (2, Funny)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 5 years ago | (#29756099)

If the tumor is found to have a vulnerable exhaust port, it could revolutionize cancer treatment!

Re:Good question! (1)

reverseengineer (580922) | about 5 years ago | (#29758691)

I used to bullseye womp cysts with my T-16 electroscalpel back home. They're not much bigger than two centimeters.

Yeah (1)

bucklesl (73547) | about 5 years ago | (#29755293)

But can it also disable Cybermen?

Can anyone tell me the difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29755519)

between cancerous and non-cancerous cells in terms of mass?

I run traditional MS quite frequently. And yes technically it is real time, but the spectra do not usually allow for an immediate conclusion. There are some obvious characteristic peaks, but truly identifying a molecule takes a bit of time.

Re:Can anyone tell me the difference (3, Informative)

reverseengineer (580922) | about 5 years ago | (#29758519)

I'm not sure what exactly they use as a marker in this case, but I know that one distinguishing feature for cancer cells is increased oxidative stress that attacks membrane lipids. Due to this, cancer cells have much larger concentrations of small-chain alkanes than you would expect in a healthy cell. Using alkanes as your biomarker has the further advantage of their structural simplicity; you can just dial in on the mass of something like pentane or hexane molecular ions without having to do detective work on a bunch of fragments.

Since the shorter alkanes are highly volatile, there have already been experiments to show that lung cancers can be detected by GC-MS of collected breath, and even some experiments that dogs have a sense of smell acute enough to pick up on these markers.

Re:Can anyone tell me the difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29759459)

That makes sense. Very cool, thanks.

Gradient Descent (1)

ejtttje (673126) | about 5 years ago | (#29755707)

Cool, it's like a game of "cold... warmer... warmer... hot!" for cancer surgery... I can play that game!

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Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29757587)

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Anyone else (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 5 years ago | (#29759981)

instantly flash on the board game Operation?

Not as revolutionary as it seems to be (1)

One_Minute_Too_Late (1226718) | about 5 years ago | (#29764717)

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 comparing signatures against each other, etc.. Many methods have been touted themselves as the magic one for cancer detection/analysis: analysis of proteins in the serum (prostate specific antigen, I'm talking about you), compounds in urine, etc. etc. And the initial studies always look great. But time and again, when put into practice, the picture is never quite so clear as in the pilot studies. In the case of PSA, yeah, an elevated PSA says that there's something wrong with your prostate, but maybe it's just that your prostate's gotten larger, or it has a subclinical infection, or maybe there's cancer. There is a similar information about CA-125 for ovarian cancer. There is a bit more hope in this case, because this method actually samples tissue.
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