Doctors can spot cancer in 10 seconds with new "pen" device

The droplet absorbs chemicals from tissue cells, and then an instrument called a mass spectrometer analyzes the droplet and gives the doctors its results on a computer monitor.
By Lucas Rowe | Sep 11, 2017
Surgeons don't always get every last trace of cancerous tissue out of a patient, but a new device might make it easier for them to do so. The device, called the MasSpec Pen, is reportedly able to identify cancerous cells 150 times faster than standard medical diagnostics can and yielded results with 96% accuracy in a recent study.
"If you talk to cancer patients after surgery, one of the first things many will say is 'I hope the surgeon got all the cancer out," said Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, a University of Texas assistant professor of chemistry, who designed the study. "It's just heartbreaking when that's not the case. But our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery."
The pen releases a tiny water droplet onto the targeted tissue. The droplet absorbs chemicals from tissue cells, and then an instrument called a mass spectrometer analyzes the droplet and gives the doctors its results on a computer monitor.
Doctors currently rely on the process of "frozen section analysis" to determine if a post-surgery patient's body cells still have some cancerous cells among them. The process requires doctors to make painful extractions of tissue from the patient, and it frequently fails to spot some hard-to-find quantities of cancerous cells, which results in patients' cancers rebounding after their surgeries.
Eberlin and colleagues hope that the MasSpec Pen could make these residual cancer cells easier to spot and guide surgeons more precisely on which tissues they need to remove and which tissues they should leave alone. The result would be better survival rates and faster recoveries, they said.

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