Brain and Body

“Intelligent” Scalpel Could Revolutionize Surgery

April 18, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Intelligent scalpel identifies tumors in a pig's brain
Photo credit: Investigación y Desarrollo

This smart scalpel could revolutionize surgery with its ability to quickly and safely identify brain tumors.

It goes without saying that brain surgery is no easy task. When it comes to the removal of tumors, surgeons must rely on years of training to pinpoint tumors without disturbing surrounding brain tissue, which could easily result in permanent damage or death.

But thanks to the work of David Oliva Uribe, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, surgeons may now be assisted (and perhaps one day replaced) by an intelligent scalpel that can locate tumors faster and more accurately than a surgeon.

"Although imaging techniques such as an MRI and an ultrasound locate a tumor accurately before the surgery, during the cranial opening and throughout the surgical procedure there are many factors that can lead to the loss of this position, so the resection (the removing of the tumor) depends on the experience, as well as the senses of sight and touch of the surgeon," said Uribe.

David Oliva Uribe
David Oliva Uribe

David Oliva Uribe. Credit: Investigación y Desarrollo

According to the Mexican online publication Investigación y Desarrollo, the smart scalpel has been in development for more than six years with a recent prototype yielding excellent results after being tested on artificial tumors and brain tissue from pigs.

The scalpel works by using integrated sensors that, after wiping the surface of the tissue, inform the neurosurgeon with visual and/or auditory displays about the tissue’s status. The results are obtained in less than half a second, saving vital time during the operation.

Intelligent scalpel, measurement in artificial tissue

The smart scalpel, seen here testing artificial tissue, uses a rounded sensor less than one millimeter in diameter to identify tumors.

Beyond the brain, Uribe said the miniaturizing of the sensory technology in the scalpel may allow the device to be used in other areas of the body, such as the stomach or intestine, where the sensitivity and accuracy of the smart scalpel would be particularly useful.

Uribe also suggested it may be possible to combine the smart scalpel with robot-assisted surgeries.

With the successful testing on artificial and pig tissues, the next phase of testing will be in human trials, according to Investigación y Desarrollo.

If all this automation continues, one might ask: How much longer before humans are assisting robots in surgeries?

Based on materials provided by Investigación y Desarrollo

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