A promising device, courtesy of the University of Texas’ researchers, has been shown to detect the presence of cancer within 10 seconds. If sufficiently funded and further tested, this pen-like device would allow for swifter, safer and more exacting surgeries to remove affected cells, ideally without leaving any remnants behind to replicate. Currently, the pen has shown a 96 percent rate of accuracy.
The device, referred to as a “MasSpec Pen,” functions by detecting the unique metabolic processes involve in the spread of cancerous cells. The rapid development of cancer makes its chemistry different enough from normal cells that the cancer easily stands out from the norm. By applying the pen to a cancerous portion of the body and applying some water, the pen sucks in trace amounts of chemicals on the body and then analyzes the presence or absence of cancer from the chemicals detected. The “MasSpec” part of the tool’s name comes from its role as a mass spectrometer, able to weigh the mass of a multitude of chemicals in seconds. The pen uncovers a chemical fingerprint that informs the technician whether he is looking at healthy tissue or cancer-ridden tissue.
The greatest difficulty in surgical removal of cancer is that it is not always clear whether tissue is cancerous or healthy. While some tumors have an obvious tell, others make such a call very difficult. The MasSpec Pen should do a world of good in helping surgeons discern where to stop their scalpel, extracting as much cancer as possible while avoiding damage to healthy tissue.
The MasSpec Pen has been tried across more than 200 different samples. The next plan is to continually test it in order to refine its accuracy rate before putting it into practical use in 2018. Currently, the pen analyzes a piece of tissue some 1.5mm across but current research indicates that it should have no problem analyzing a 0.6mm wide piece of tissue.
The MasSpec Pen is only the newest approach to optimizing cancer surgeries. Imperial College London has invented a knife that can “smell” cut tissue to detect the presence of cancer. Harvard has been working on the role of lasers in the surgical removal of brain cancer. Dr. Aine McCarthy of Cancer Research UK remarked that technologies like the MasSpec Pen have greatly expedited the ability to scan tumors for cancer and gain a better understanding of the tragic disease.