If you have never heard of electrosurgery before, here is some background information:
Electrosurgery is the application of a high-frequency electric current to biological tissue as a means to cut, coagulate, desiccate, or fulgurate tissue. […] Its benefits include the ability to make precise cuts with limited blood loss. Electrosurgical devices are frequently used during surgical operations helping to prevent blood loss in hospital operating rooms or in outpatient procedures.
In electrosurgical procedures, the tissue is heated by an electric current. Although electrical devices may be used for the cauterization of tissue in some applications, electrosurgery is usually used to refer to a quite different method than electrocautery. The latter uses heat conduction from a probe heated by a direct current (much in the manner of a soldering iron), whereas electrosurgery uses alternating current to directly heat the tissue itself.
The main reason surgeons use electrosurgical tools is to minimize blood loss. A team of German and Hungarian researchers decided to adapt one such electroscalpel by attaching a pump to suck up tiny particles of tissue which get vaporized during cutting.
In electrosurgery, tissue is locally exposed to high-frequency electrical current in order to guide a cut, remove tissue, or halt bleeding. The tissue being treated becomes very hot and is partially vaporized. The electrical current also generates electrically charged molecules during the vaporization. The team of scientists from the University of Giessen, the Budapest firm Massprom, Semmelweis University, and the National Research Institute for Radiobiology and Radiohygiene, also in Budapest, made use of this process for their new method called rapid evaporation ionization mass spectrometry, or REIMS. They equipped an electrosurgical instrument with a special pump that sucks the vaporized cell components up through a tube and introduces the charged molecules into a mass spectrometer.
Once it was shown that obtaining the tissue was feasible, they were fortunate to discover that the different types of tissue are rapidly and easily distinguished by a mass spectrometer.
It turns out that mainly lipids, the components of cell membranes, are registered by the mass spectrometer. “Different tissue types demonstrate characteristic differences in their lipid composition,” explains Takáts. “Tumor tissue also differs from healthy tissue.” The scientists were able to develop a special algorithm to unambiguously identify and differentiate between types of tissue.
“Tissue analysis with REIMS, including data analysis, requires only fractions of a second,” according to Takáts. “During an operation, the surgeon thus received virtually real-time information about the nature of the tissue as he was cutting it.” This opens new vistas for cancer surgery in particular: the method helps to precisely localize the tumor during surgery and to delimit it from the surrounding healthy tissue. REIMS also provides information about whether the carcinoma is in an early or advanced stage.
We hope this technique becomes widely available as soon as possible.