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Blazing a new surgical trail

Providence Saint Joseph’s doctor is the first in the Southland to start using new tissue-dissection medical equipment.

June 17, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

Deanna Attai, a Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center surgeon who this year became one of the first doctors in the country to treat early-stage breast cancer patients using a technique that essentially freezes tumors, can add another first to her list.

Attai this month became the first Southland surgeon to overhaul her medical equipment, including a scalpel and traditional electrosurgical device, and replace it with a new tissue-dissection system based on proprietary technology from Stanford University.

Despite an enduring financial crisis, medical equipment companies, particularly those that create products related to women’s health and minimally invasive surgery, continue to hit the marketplace and thrive, according to a report issued by private research firm Global Markets Direct.


So when Palo Alto-based Peak Surgical Inc. received U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance to market the device for general surgery on humans, it sent Tim Pham to Burbank.

“Obviously, as a start-up company, we don’t have name recognition behind it,” said Pham, who is in charge of marketing the device regionally. “But we have a champion in Dr. Attai, and things are moving.”

The privately held company was founded four years ago and has 50 employees. Peak reportedly raised $21 million in February 2008.

While most medical equipment focuses on a single medical condition, the device has applications in more than 2 million procedures in a packed field that represents a $1-billion market in the United States, he said. Pham has so far converted eight doctors into believers, working mostly with cardiologists, plastic surgeons, electrophysicists and obstetricians.

Made up of two apparatuses, a $35,000 generator and hand-held component that uses $200 disposable blades, the technology was created by Stanford physicist Daniel Palanker and requires no additional skill or training on the part of surgeons, Attai said.

“This is the only surgical device I’ve decided to stick with,” said Attai, who uses the PlasmaBlade on common breast cancer surgeries such as lumpectomies or mastectomies. “It is the first one that I’ve used that truly is different.”

The pen-size hand piece employs pulses of plasma energy generated around the tip to cut tissue and control bleeding more effectively than a traditional electrosurgical device. Standard radiofrequency-based surgical products use continuous-voltage waveforms to cut tissue, Pham said.

The PlasmaBlade, which can dissect tissue in a wet or dry surgical field, cuts at a significantly lower temperature, resulting in less damage to surrounding tissues. Also, its ability to coagulate without the use of extensive heat translates to improved healing and has shown to decrease scarring and pain, Attai said.

“You’re causing much less damage to the point where you can see less charring than when using a standard cauterizing device,” she said.

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