New device could help make cancer surgery more accurate

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new probe can distinguish between cancerous and healthy tissue samples, according to a new Australian study. 

The device, which could provide surgeons with information during an operation, measures the chemical differences between the two types of tissue.

“Spotting the difference between a tumour and healthy tissue during surgery could increase the chance of a successful operation, while reducing the amount of normal tissue that is removed” – Dr Sarah Bohndiek, Cancer Research UK

It’s hoped that the technology could help surgeons more precisely remove tumours while sparing healthy tissue, according to the study published in the journal Cancer Research

And as the technology is cheap, said lead study author Dr Erik Schartner from the University of Adelaide, there could be “scope for broader use of this technology in operating theatres”.

Dr Sarah Bohndiek, a Cancer Research-UK funded scientist from the University of Cambridge, said: “Spotting the difference between a tumour and healthy tissue during surgery could increase the chance of a successful operation, while reducing the amount of normal tissue that is removed.”

Surgery to remove tumours relies heavily on the experience and judgement of surgeons to be able to distinguish between healthy and cancerous tissue. 

As a precautionary measure, surgeons often remove extra tissue around the tumour, which includes healthy cells.

And in some patients it’s not possible to remove the entire tumour during the initial surgery, and follow-up surgery is then needed to remove residual cancer tissue.

The new probe works by measuring levels of acidity, or pH, in the area that it is placed in. Tumour tissue is generally more acidic than healthy tissue. 

Working with a small number of breast cancer and melanoma samples, the team made multiple measurements at the borders of the samples. They found the probe was able to tell apart tumour and normal areas with around 90% accuracy. 

The researchers believe that if the device can be developed into something that surgeons can use, it could offer results for the tissues they’re analysing within just one minute.

Schartner added that they are now looking to test the device on more samples, “with the view of moving this towards clinical studies in the near future”.

“If the findings are confirmed in a larger study, their technique could be used routinely at relatively low cost in operating theatres, paving the way for more accurate surgeries,” said Bohndiek.

References

Schartner, E. P. et al. (2016). Cancer detection in human tissue samples using a fiber-tip pH probe. Cancer Research. DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-16-1285.