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University of Utah Surgeon Uses New "Bloodless Knife" for First time in Humans

SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 9, 2011- A University of Utah surgeon has performed the first successful procedure with the FMwand, a new medical device developed by Salt Lake City-based Domain Surgical that, in essence, acts as a bloodless knife, cauterizing as it cuts.

The FDA recently cleared the device for use in humans. Joel MacDonald, M.D., a neurosurgeon with the University of Utah’s Clinical Neurosciences Center and an associate professor in the School of Medicine, used the FMwand during three surgical procedures this week—twice for spine surgery and once for brain surgery. 

"The wand allows for precise control," says MacDonald. "It minimizes collateral tissue damage in multiple surgical procedures, which is good news for patients. With less tissue damage, I’m optimistic about the potential for improved healing and less postoperative pain."

Using heat during surgery isn’t new. Electrosurgery accounts for roughly 90 percent of all surgeries performed in the U.S., and has been used for decades. Recent refinements include the use of lasers and ultrasound. But this technology has its limitations; patients must be grounded because of the electrical current, heat isn’t delivered in a precise manner which can cause significant collateral tissue damage, and heat can’t be used in areas that contain body fluid such as the knee.

But the FMwand contains a special thin layer of deposited alloy on the tip that produces heat with no electricity. The alloy heats and cools instantly and the coating produces focused, precise energy, making it a viable tool for removing tumors in the brain or doing other delicate neurological work. “This opens up new possibilities in the field of neurosurgery,” says MacDonald. “We can reach areas we couldn’t before and remove tumors more precisely.”

In addition to the precision, the tool cauterizes tissue instantly, resulting in a minimal loss of blood. This holds promise for faster healing and fewer side effects for patients. The tool also self-cleans, eliminating the need to remove debris from the tip of the instrument during surgery.

An interesting side note, the device was invented in the Utah basement of a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Kim Manwaring. Manwaring was on a quest to find a material that could deliver precise heat. Tinkering in his basement with parts from a ham radio, he came up with the concept for the device and then came across a special alloy developed by a NASA engineer, which he used for the tip of the instrument.

During the next several months the FMwand System, developed by Manwaring’s company Domain Surgical, will demo the system in a variety of surgical procedures at many of the leading medical institutions across the United States. “We have sought out thought leaders across the U.S. to use the device,” says Manwaring. “Over the next year, we anticipate the assessments of the evolving role of this device to very difficult neurosurgical procedures.”

University of Utah Health Care is the Intermountain West’s only academic health care system, combining excellence in patient care, the latest in medical research, and teaching to provide leading-edge medicine in a caring and personal setting. It is consistently ranked among US News & World Report’s Best Hospitals, and its academic partners at the University of Utah School of Medicine and Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, and Health are internationally regarded research and teaching institutions.