Wireless probes detect cancer cells, suspicious lymph nodes during surgery

Courtesy of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed wireless probes with the aim of identifying cancer cells and suspicious lymph nodes during surgery.

The Gamma and Beta probes, which are 20 centimeters long and weigh around 100 grams, look similar to a large pen. They can be inserted into the surgical wound and emit sounds like those of a Geiger counter to direct the surgeon. The auditory signals help surgeons find cancer cells that otherwise aren't visible with the human eye.

During surgery to remove a malignant tumor, a surgeon has to ensure all cancer cells have been removed. "Just as crucial, they have to determine whether the tumor has already sent micrometastases into the neighboring lymph nodes on the way to the rest of the body," the announcement said. These new tools--developed by EPFL in partnership with Forimtech--aim to help in those efforts.

The Gamma probe is an upgrade to similar devices that are already used, while the Beta probe is a completely new device "able to detect extremely small bits of cancerous tissue," the announcement claimed.

This Beta probe is based on particle detection and is used after tumor removal to see if any residual cancer tissue remains in the area. The probe searches for positrons that are given off by a tracer substance that is administered to a patient and attaches itself to cancer cells. Positrons can only travel through a millimeter of tissue, so if one is detected, "cancer cells cannot be far away," according to the researchers.

It not only ensures the entire removal of unhealthy cancer cells but also aids in preserving healthy tissue, as the cells are pinpointed more accurately, the announcement claimed.

The Gamma probe is an improvement on existing tech and doesn't directly detect cancer cells. Instead it finds a sentinel lymph node--the lymph node cancer cells reach before they make their way to the rest of the body--near the main tumor in a patient.

That lymph node is removed by surgeons and used to stage the disease and decide on treatment. A sentinel lymph node free of cancer cells means a tumor hasn't spread, according to Maurice Matter, a surgeon at the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV).

The announcement claims the EPFL's Gamma probe is lighter, more accurate, quicker with detection and easier to use than the competition.

Both probes have been tested at the CHUV after earning the CE mark in early 2015. Testing will move across Europe this year. The Beta probe is in the clinical test phase, with a three-year effectiveness study of 60 patients underway at the CHUV.

- here's the announcement

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