Cancer is one of the most significant global health problems and its devastating effects will only increase in the future. Even though cancer research, its prevention, and various treatment methods have taken huge leaps forward with the advancements of new medical devices and technology, surgical treatment of cancer is still mainly dependent on the personal skill and subjective assessment of the surgeon.
The aim of cancer surgery is to remove the entirety of the tumor, while minimizing the damage to the surrounding benign tissue. However, by visual inspection and palpation alone, it is extremely difficult to determine a definitive line or margin, where the cancer ends, and benign tissue begins.
That is why, for example, in approximately every fifth breast cancer surgery, the margin is assessed inadequately and there will be residual cancer cells left in the patient’s body. The incomplete removal of the tumor requires additional treatment, which often involve a reoperation. These avoidable reoperations are strenuous for the overall well-being of the patient and cause significant healthcare costs.
Technological solutions to aid in surgical margin assessment have thus far been too expensive, slow, or difficult to adapt to the normal surgical workflow. The aim of the thesis was to study the possibility to utilize differential mobility spectrometry in tissue identification and to produce technology that could be used to aid in surgical margin assessment in the future.
“Our aim is to develop a cost-effective device that would inform the surgeon of the type of operated tissue, thus allowing the surgeon to correct the surgical margin during the operation if needed”, Kontunen explains.
The technology introduced in the thesis is based on the measurement of volatile organic compounds from the surgical smoke of the operated tissue by differential mobility spectrometry (DMS). With DMS, the different molecules that are in the surgical smoke produce a measurement result that can be represented as a color image.
“From the features of these color images, we can see differences between tissue types and identify whether the operated tissue is malignant or benign, and then even communicate the information back to the operator as an anatomical tissue map. In other words, our aim is to identify cancer and tissue types based on their smell”, Kontunen states.
The thesis research consisted of five studies that resulted in peer-reviewed journal publications. The technology was first tested with slaughterhouse offal tissues in a laboratory environment, after which the system was developed towards the final study, where the system was used in 20 breast cancer surgeries. The results showed that the technology can be used in tissue identification, but its utilization as standard clinical practice still requires additional system development.
“The main challenge of the last study was that the utilized commercial DMS sensor was not suited for fast consecutive measurements. Since then, we have been able to manufacture our own DMS device that was already initially designed to enable real-time measurements. With the new device, our technology has taken an important step forward and I hope that we will soon be able to help patients worldwide survive cancer without reoperations”, Kontunen says.
Kontunen is from on Mikkeli and currently he is working at Olfactomics Oy, a Finnish-based company that utilizes DMS technology in medical and industrial applications.
The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc. (Tech.) Anton Kontunen in the field of biomedical engineering titled Tissue Identification by Differential Mobility Spectrometry will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University at 9 o’clock on Friday 11 March 2022 in Sähkötalo auditorium S2, address: Korkeakoulunkatu 3, Tampere. The Opponent will be Associate Professor Brendan Kennedy from the University of Western Australia while Associate Professor Antti Vehkaoja will act as the custos.
The event can be followed via remote connection.
The dissertation is available online at
Photo: Kristiina Kompuinen