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Hand-held Surgical Probe to Assist Tumor Surgery

Researchers at the Department of Energys Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) are collaborating with Hampton University, Duke University, East Carolina Medical School and Riverside Regional Medical Center on a new tool that could improve pre- and intra-operative detection of cancerous lesions.

Why use the device?

Making sure that the surgeon locates and excises all of a cancerous lesion is not a simple task since cancerous cells are not always obvious at the surgical site. Any device that would help the surgeon locate and discern the cancerous tumor from surrounding healthy tissue would be an asset to medicine.

How does it work?

The hand-held tool, which could be used either before or during surgery, makes use of special particle detecting devices developed by Jefferson Lab and Hampton University. It is operated in this way: prior to surgery to remove a cancerous lesion, the patient is injected intravenously with a metabolic tracer that acts like glucose and is known as FDG. The higher metabolic rate of the cancer cells increases the absorption of the glucose-like tracer. The tracer will emit particles called positrons (positively charged electrons) that can be detected by the hand-held device. During surgical procedures to remove a malignant tumor, the probe is used to identify tissue that has metabolized more of the biological tracer than neighboring tissue, thus making it possible to distinguish between tissue that is cancerous and tissue that is healthy. In this way the surgeon has greater confidence that all of the cancerous tissue has been surgically removed. Commercially available surgical probes are not able to detect positrons.

Current Status

After a commercially available probe failed to locate an internal melanoma during two surgical procedures on October 14 and 28, 1998, the new surgical probe was used successfully to locate the melanoma cancer at East Carolina Medical School by surgeon Dr. Laureen Tafra. Five companies are interested in licensing this new probe technology.


The project is supported by an NSF grant to Hampton University (Dr. Cynthia Keppel). Support is also provided by Hampton University and Department of Energys Office of Science and Jefferson Lab (Dr. Stan Majewski). Testing is provided by East Carolina Medical, Duke University and Riverside Regional Medical Center (Newport News, VA).