Health Care

MassSpec cancer pen can identify tumours in ten seconds

MassSpec cancer pen can identify tumours in ten seconds”

Scientists at the University of Texas, Austin have developed the MasSpec Pen, a probe which is capable of distinguishing between tumours and healthy tissue within ten seconds, without destroying it. After analyzing 253 human patient samples from lung, ovary, thyroid, and breast tumors as well as healthy tissues, the scientists developed a "molecular profile" that could identify cancers with 96.4% sensitivity, 96.2% specificity, and 96.3% accuracy.

"Since the metabolites in cancer and normal cells are so different, we extract and analyse them with the MasSpec Pen to obtain a molecular fingerprint of the tissue", said Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, assistant professor at University of Texas, Austin. "It's just heartbreaking when that's not the case. But our technology could vastly improve the odds leading surgeons to really remove every last trace of cancer during surgery", Eberlin added.

The current methods for diagnosing cancers and determining the boundary between cancer and normal tissue during surgery, is slow and sometimes inaccurate. The researchers went on to show that the MasSpec Pen reliably identified tumors in living mice and importantly, did not cause any damage to healthy tissues. Each sample can take 30 minutes or more to prepare and interpret by a pathologist, which increases the risk to the patient of infection and negative effects of anesthesia. Taking too much healthy tissue can also be risky, raising the prospect of damage to muscle and nerve function, along with other painful side effects. "This technology does all three".

The pen works by releasing a tiny droplet of water onto the tissue, which soaks ups biological material, such as fast, proteins and sugars.

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It could offer a breakthrough by allowing surgeons to see exactly which tissues are cancerous during an operation, meaning there is a better chance of removing "every last trace" of the disease.

It requires simply holding the pen against the patient's tissues, triggering the automated analysis using a foot pedal, and waiting a few seconds for the result. The team expects to start testing this new technology during oncologic surgeries in 2018.

Once this analysis is completed, a connected computer screen will automatically display "Normal" or "Cancer" within about 10 seconds, and for certain cancers, will even name the subtype, such as "lung cancer", for example. Then the device drives the water sample into an instrument called a mass spectrometer, which detects molecular fingerprints of thousands of molecules.



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