‘Reading Tissues with Light’ Can Improve Cancer Operations

cancer

During operations, surgeons primarily have to rely on their eyesight and sense of touch when determining which piece of tissue to remove. But there are better ways of doing this, argues Benno Hendriks in his inaugural address as part-time professor at TU Delft, on Wednesday, 30 November.

Needle

Benno Hendriks is working on developing a new generation of smart medical instruments that are also minimally invasive, reducing the impact on the patient. Hendriks is employed as a research fellow at Philips and will now be part-time professor at TU Delft. His chair at TU Delft, ‘Optics for minimally invasive instruments’, has been made possible and is funded by Philips.

Hendriks has worked on health research at Philips since 2005, has conducted a lot of research in hospitals and also collaborates closely with the NKI-AVL (Netherlands Cancer Institute – Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital). ‘A successful example of my research is a biopsy needle with tissue recognition, thanks to glass fibres integrated into the needle,’ explains Hendriks. ‘It makes it possible to check a suspicious piece of tissue before biopsy in order to be sure that the needle is actually in the right place. Needles can sometimes miss their mark.’

Personal passion

‘My chair at TU Delft will focus primarily on developing advanced optical clinical instruments that enable medical practitioners to make an effective diagnosis faster and remove or destroy tumour tissue more effectively. This is very much in line with my personal passion, which is to develop useful technological solutions that make it possible to conduct operations more precisely, effectively and safely. At TU Delft’s 3mE faculty, a lot of research is already being conducted into medical instruments. The addition of optical feedback in medical instruments will further enhance research in the faculty.’

Cancer surgery

Hendriks is currently focusing on solutions for image-guided, minimally invasive surgery. ‘Medical technology has made major progress over the years, but only some of these technological advances find their way into the operating theatre. Despite the range of technologies available, surgeons still have to rely primarily on their eyesight and sense of touch when determining which piece of tissue to remove during operations. It is currently still difficult for a surgeon to remove a tumour shown on screen in its entirety without pieces of tumour tissue being left behind. It is also imperative that you save as much healthy tissue as possible.’

Smart surgical knife

In order to optimise surgery of this kind, better image guidance and direct tissue feedback from the surgical instruments are needed during the operation. Hendriks therefore aims to develop medical instruments that can be used widely, which provide immediate optical information about the tissue. ‘These kinds of instruments can read the tissue, so to speak, like a smart surgical knife. Before he or she makes the incision, the knife provides the surgeon with immediate feedback on the type of tissue in contact with the knife. This feedback makes it possible to be sure of removing the tumour while leaving healthy tissue intact.’