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'iKnife' Tells Surgeon Whether Tissue Is Cancerous

But more research needed to see if device works in everyday practice, expert says


Capital equipment costs for the iKnife will be more than $380,000 per unit, said Jeremy Nicholson, a co-researcher of Takats' at Imperial College London.

However, the researchers contend that the iKnife ultimately could save money by allowing hospitals to downsize their pathology departments and by reducing staff time spent in surgery.

"The cost per patient will probably be quite small in comparison with the overall patient journey, and if the patient treatment is better with lower cancer recurrence then there is a very large saving to the health service," Nicholson said.

The next step in research will be clinical trials with the iKnife "where we are giving real-time feedback to the surgeon and they can make decisions based on that feedback," Takats said.

Takats estimates the new technology could be approved and available for use within two to three years.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, called the science behind the iKnife "fascinating." But, he added that more research will be needed before it can be considered a sound investment for hospitals.

"The real question everybody's going to ask is can this be translated directly to clinical practice," Lichtenfeld said. "The answer is possibly, but there's a lot of work that has to be done before that happens, and it would have to demonstrate a clear benefit to the patient and the health-care system before it would happen. It's still quite a ways from actually showing up in an operating room at a local hospital."

Lichtenfeld pointed to robotic surgery technology meant to improve results for prostate cancer patients. Many hospitals purchased robots but the expected improvements have not panned out, he said.

"People are only now asking if they make enough of a difference to justify the cost of the robot," he said. "We can't get into that situation again. We need to have scientific research before we have widespread adoption of new technology."

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