Medical “pen” identifies cancerous tissue in 10 seconds

September 8, 2017

A new handheld medical device can identify cancer in tissue in just 10 seconds, which could make surgery to remove a tumor quicker, safer and more precise, according to scientists at the University of Texas in the US.

Tests suggest that the medical “pen”, called MasSpec Pen, is accurate 96% of the time.

It takes advantage of the unique metabolism of cancer cells. Their furious drive to grow and spread means their internal chemistry is very different to that of healthy tissue.

The pen is touched on to a suspected cancer and releases a tiny droplet of water.Chemicals inside the living cells move into the droplet, which is then sucked back up the pen for analysis.

The pen is plugged into a mass spectrometer – a piece of kit that can measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second.

It produces a chemical fingerprint that tells doctors whether they are looking at healthy tissue or cancer.

The challenge for surgeons is finding the border between the cancer and normal tissue.

In some tumors it is obvious, but in others the boundary between healthy and diseased tissue can be blurred.

The pen should help doctors ensure none of the cancer is left behind.

Remove too little tissue, and any remaining cancerous cells will grow into another tumour. But take too much, and you can cause damage, particularly in organs such as the brain.

Livia Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, said the technology is elegant, simple, and can be in the hands of surgeons in a short time.

The technology has been tested on 253 samples as part of the study. The plan is to continue testing to refine the device before trialing it during operations next year.

The pen currently analyses a patch of tissue 1.5mm (0.06in) across, but the researchers have already developed pens that are even more refined and should be able to look at a finer patch of tissue just 0.6mm across.

While the pen itself is cheap, the mass spectrometer is expensive and bulky.

“We’re visioning a mass spectrometer that’s a little smaller, cheaper and tailored for this application that can be wheeled in and out of rooms,” Dr. Eberlin said.

Dr. James Suliburk, one of the researchers and the head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, said: “Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that’s something we want to do.This technology does all three.”

The MasSpec Pen is the latest attempt to improve the accuracy of surgery.

A team at Imperial College London in the UK have developed a knife that “smells” the tissue it cuts to determine whether it is removing cancer.And a team at Harvard is using lasers to analyze how much of a brain cancer to remove.


Category: Features, Technology & Devices

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