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31st August 2017


Have you ever wondered if ancient technology is still relevant to MedTech today? Let us surprise you!

While there is still enough conjecture about the mystery holes in the skull that apparently worked as aspirin to cure everything from epilepsy to migraines in Neolithic times, what remains relevant today is the substance used to carry out the primitive surgery. Obsidian, which is a naturally occurring volcanic glass, is known to be one of the sharpest materials found in nature. It is formed as an extrusive igneous rock and was used in the past in cutting and piercing tools.

Interestingly, Stone Age blades are still used for cutting in modern surgery. Believe it or not, but the sharpest knives produced lately are mounted with stone flakes made of obsidian. A handful of surgeons are benefiting themselves by using them for fine incisions that they say heal with minimal scarring.

Dr. Lee Green, professor and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta , confirmed using obsidian blades on regular basis for removing moles and repairing torn earlobes.

“The biggest advantage with obsidian is that it is the sharpest edge there is, it causes very little trauma to tissue, it heals faster, and more importantly, it heals with less scarring,” says Green.

Well-crafted obsidian blades made out of black volcanic glass has a cutting edge 100 times sharper and unbelievably smoother under an electron microscope as compared to the high-quality steel surgical scalpels and metal knives with jagged blades. At 30 angstroms — a unit of measurement equal to one hundred millionth of a centimeter — an obsidian scalpel can beat diamond in the fineness of its edge.

“It is very sharp and very smooth at the microscopic level.” Green said. “Under the microscope you could see the obsidian scalpel had divided individual cells in half, and next to it the steel scalpel incision looked like it had been made by a chainsaw”

While the Stone Age blade does the job very efficiently, it is not for everyone as using it requires high level of expertise and cautiousness. Obsidian scalpels are also very expensive as compared to steel scalpels and can be extremely brittle if lateral forces are applied. They are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA as the blade is very thin, surgeons must be careful to only cut soft tissues as scraping a bone could result in breakage which may leave obsidian flakes inside the patient. Nevertheless, this special type of volcanic glass can also be used as an alternative material for surgical scalpel blades for patients who are allergic to steel or metal.

“For studies where trace metals from ordinary scalpel blades cannot be tolerated, these very special obsidian scalpels may provide the answer,” says the obsidian manufacturing company from Germany.

Research also confirms that incisions carried out with obsidian produce narrower scars and fewer inflammatory cells. This is because on cellular level, obsidian knife cuts between cells rather than tearing it in case of a steel knife, hence, a sharper cut allows the wound to heal more easily with negligible scarring.


How Stone Age blades are still cutting it in modern surgery

Surgeon use for obsidian scalpel blades

GIF credits: nursblr-nursingproblems (tumblr)

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