An “intelligent knife” that can immediately determine whether tissue is healthy or cancerous was 100% accurate in the first study to test the device in the operating room.

Known as the iKnife, the innovative tool combines electrosurgery with rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry. The device draws surgical smoke—created by electrosurgical fillet knives used to cut and cauterize blood vessels—into a mass spectrometer, which indicates if the cut tissue is cancerous or healthy.

The iKnife can also distinguish normal and tumor tissues from different organs as well as identify the origin of the tumor that was a metastasis.

Typically during cancer surgery, if a surgeon is unsure where the margins of the tumor are, tissue samples are sent to a pathologist for testing. This process can take 20 to 30 minutes and may require additional tissue.

With only a 1- to 3-second delay for an iKnife readout, the feedback could minimize the time a patient is under anesthesia and allow surgeons to work faster and more effectively. The next clinical trial with the iKnife will determine if using the device will help reduce the number of recurring tumors and increase life expectancy.