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Will a 'Smart Scalpel' Change Cancer Surgery?

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However, others think the device would benefit brain surgeons the most. "It does sound useful to neurosurgeons, because it is harder to distinguish normal brain [tissue] from tumor," Jed Nuchtern, MD, tells WebMD. But "this device is of limited value to general surgeons or general pediatric surgeons [because] tumor [edges] are normally fairly obvious to the naked eye, based on color and consistency," he says. And because general surgeons try to take out an area of normal tissue around the tumor in order to be sure that the entire tumor is removed, "no one would want to get close enough to the tumor to start cutting across it with the 'smart scalpel,'" says Nuchern, who is a staff surgeon at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

The developers also hope that the device will have clinical applications beyond cancer surgeries. For example, the device can detect sickle cell anemia. Beyond medicine, they hope it can be used to monitor groundwater, waste fluids, or explosive chemicals. Another 'smart scalpel' laser device that has been explored by other investigators was targeted for the treatment of 'port-wine stain' birth marks.

Vital Information:

  • Scientists have developed a 'smart scalpel' that can differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells during surgery.
  • A laser device can distinguish malignant cells, because they are more dense, from healthy cells, and this information is transmitted to a computer that alerts the surgeon when normal tissue is detected.
  • This device would be especially important during brain surgery, when physicians are trying to completely remove tumors without taking out healthy tissue unnecessarily.
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