New ‘pen’ device identifies cancerous tissue in just ten seconds

pharmafile | September 7, 2017 | News story | Research and Development Cancer, University of Texas, digital, medicine, pharma, pharmaceutical, tumour 

Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine, University of Texas have developed a device which they claim can identify cancerous tissue in just ten seconds with 96% accuracy, claiming it could speed up tumour removal with greater safety and precision.

The MasSpec Pen works by releasing a droplet of water onto any tissue surface it touches, which attracts chemicals within the living tissue. The droplet, now containing these chemicals, is drawn back into the device to be analysed. Because the chemical make-up of cancerous cells is so different to that of our own cells, the device is able to distinguish between the two when it is plugged into a mass spectrometer, which measures the mass of chemical compositions in seconds.

The technology has been put through its paces through the analysis of 253 samples. It is able to analyse patches of tissue measuring 1.5mm across, but a more precise model is already in development, able to scan areas just 0.6mm across.

The pen could help surgeons to more accurately determine the fine line between healthy and cancerous tissue which has remained a challenge in cancer treatment. Removing too much canceorus tissue can treat the cancer but to detrimental effect, damaging the body in the process, while removing too little can lead to the remaining cells propagating and forming another tumour.

“What’s exciting about this technology is how clearly it meets a clinical need,” remarked Livia Eberlin, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas. “The tool is elegant and simple and can be in the hands of surgeons in a short time.”

 However, while promising, the technology is not without obstacles on the path to mass adoption, namely the mass spectrometer, rather than the pen itself which is cheap to manufacture and easy to use.

“The roadblock is the mass spectrometer, for sure,” added Dr Eberlin. “We’re envisioning a mass spectrometer that’s a little smaller, cheaper and tailored for this application that can be wheeled in and out of rooms.”

Cancer Research UK’s Dr Aine McCarthy commented on the technology: “Exciting research like this has the potential to speed up how quickly doctors can determine if a tumour is cancerous or not and learn about its characteristics. Gathering this kind of information quickly during surgery could help doctors match the best treatment options for patients sooner.”

Dr James Suliburk, Head of Endocrine Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, summed up the work of the team, saying: “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.”

 Matt Fellows

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