Summary: The wave of the future is here, or, perhaps, just the scalpel. For a long time, traditional scalpels have been the go-to tool for surgery, whether in Los Angeles or Milwaukee tummy tuck surgery or facial surgery—and mostly because it’s sharp. Electrosurgery—that is, surgery that uses electricity to heat a scalpel to help control bleeding—has offered promise, but still has enough drawbacks to not be the overwhelming choice. A new product from Minneapolis-based medical device manufacturer Medtronic is looking to change the paradigm with its new PEAK PlasmaBlade system—a system that promises to offer the best of both worlds.
Plastic Surgery in the Future
On science-fiction television, one way they convey the setting of the future convincingly is to make everything laser-based: laser swords, laser knives, and, when medical procedures are performed, laser scalpels. These laser scalpels, when in the hands of a Starfleet doctor, make perfect cuts and well-healing incisions, all while minimizing the development of scars. And they use lasers to accomplish this because, well, it’s the future. What’s really cool about this is that we don’t have to wait for the future to get here to enjoy laser-assisted surgery. Indeed, Lasix procedures for the eyes have made laser surgery commonplace, and skin procedures performed by lasers have had a similar effect.
But the laser scalpel is still an enticing notion, if only because it offers a perfect combination of precision and healing-promotion. Unfortunately, the closest we’ve come to this in the past is something called “electrosurgery”—basically, a fancy way of saying the use of devices that use certain forms of electrical energy. Basically, in electrosurgery, the tissue is heated using a concentrated electrical current. This has the benefit of stemming bleeding and blood loss. But the drawback has always been lack of precision. When it gets right down to it, a scalpel is incredibly sharp—sometimes right down to the molecular level—and this allows for pinpoint accuracy. For some time, then, this has been the trade off: faster recovery or less tissue damage.
In an act that will possibly destroy the space-time continuum, however, medical device company Medtronic has come along and invented the future way too early. Okay, actually, they invented the future about seven years ago, when they introduced their PEAK PlasmaBlade system to surgeons, many of who adopted it almost immediately. But in the seven years since PlasmaBlade was introduced, several studies have confirmed its effectiveness, leading to wider adoption.
The Best and the Worst
In a way, the PEAK PlasmaBlade combines the best of both worlds: it provides the accuracy of a scalpel and the benefits of electrosurgery. It does this by changing a couple of things from the way they’re typically done in electrosurgery. First, the PlasmaBlade uses pulses of radiofrequency energy (think about the kind of thing your microwave does), which means that it’s not necessarily using heat as much. Second, the blade is surrounded in a protective thermal shield everywhere except the tip. This means that it isn’t heating all of the skin around the blade, but rather focusing that energy into one area and protecting the surrounding tissues. In other words, surgeons are able to make precise incisions with the PEAK PlasmaBlade, unlike other electrosurgical options.
Additionally, because less tissue is damaged, recovery is generally quicker and results are typically more satisfactory. The PEAK PlasmaBlade is also designed to work, as the marketers say, “under water,” though in reality this means in situations that are necessarily bloody. This is indeed quite necessary in surgical situations.
The Advantages of PEAK PlasmaBlade
When it comes to plastic surgery, the PEAK PlasmaBlade can be incredibly useful because it can promote healing and accuracy, two things which are necessary with any surgical procedure, but quite noticeable with a plastic surgery procedure. In studies of breast reconstruction surgery, for example, researchers found that because of the PEAK PlasmaBlade there was much less fluid expression after the operation. In many plastic surgical procedure, pumps and drains are placed during surgery to facilitate drainage and help prevent complications. However, these drains can impede normal behaviors (showering, for example), and so the sooner they’re removed, the better the recovery generally goes. In the studies performed by Medtronic, the PEAK PlasmaBlade allowed these pumps to be removed weeks earlier than in surgeries performed with traditional scalpels.
At the End of the Day, Trust Your Surgeon
To be sure, not every plastic surgeon is going to run out and purchase a PEAK PlasmaBlade system, nor should they. In the end, much depends on the comfort and experience of the surgeon, and in the case of minimizing scars and improving recovery, sometimes a surgeon with a practiced scalpel can still be the best bet. However, if science-fiction is any indication, these types of devices may be the wave of the future, largely because they can help control bleeding during surgery. It’s not as if surgeons expect you not to bleed during surgery—but they prefer to keep that bleeding under control, for obvious reasons. Devices that can assist in maintaining that control will no doubt find much use in the future.
So while we’re in no position to give the PEAK PlasmaBlade a ringing endorsement—only your surgeon can do that—we do enjoy the promise of new technology that fills a needed gap. It doesn’t hurt that saying words like “electrosurgery” helps us feel like we’re living in the future—or, at least, a really cool and awesome present.