Health Care

Handheld 'pen' device created to detect cancer cells in seconds

Handheld 'pen' device created to detect cancer cells in seconds”

The technology uses laser beams to help surgeons decide how much tissue needs to be removed by swiftly analysing brain cancers. "This technology does all three". The pen could potentially be used for diagnosis and during surgery, allowing cancer surgeons to better determine the delicate boundary when excising tissue between cancerous and normal tissues.

Cancer develops a unique set of these human cells that can be used for pattern identification, explains Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, study author and Assistant Professor of Chemistry at UT Austin, in a TIME report. The pen releases a drop of water onto the tissue and small molecules migrate into the water, which enables the device to drive the water sample into an instrument called a mass spectrometer to detect thousands of molecules as a molecular fingerprint.

"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", says study co-author James Suliburk, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.

Results - garnered using statistical classifiers from the histologically validated molecular database - allowed for cancer prediction with high sensitivity (96.4%), specificity (96.2%), and overall accuracy (96.3%).

The MasSpec Pen could cut long wait times now required when getting cancer diagnosed from frozen samples, which involve highly skilled pathologists, according to the report. It's a highly skilled job but can be time consuming and prone to errors.

The researchers expect to start testing this new technology during oncologic surgeries in 2018.

"Many women diagnosed with breast cancer, for example, undergo breast-conserving surgery, which involves removing the lesion of interest with a rim of normal tissue and preserving the rest of the breast", Eberlin's team wrote. It is also less invasive, since it requires no tissue to be cut, and proved able to detect tumors in marginal regions between normal tissue and cancerous tissue - mixed composition cells that otherwise might have been overlooked.

The samples can take up to 30 minutes to prepare and interpret by a pathologist. A few hundred samples is not enough to say for sure it accurately distinguishes tumor from healthy tissue. Next, this droplet containing the biomolecule is transported to a mass spectrometer through a tube.

And their live tests were in mice, not in human patients.

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