What could be better than being able to test cancer in real time? It’s actually a dream come true for surgeons. Every surgeon would always want to be able to remove as much cancerous tissue as possible during tumor removal. The good news is, a revolutionary new handheld device is attempting to give medics a greater chance of getting rid of every last trace of the disease — it distinguishes between tumors and healthy tissues in ten seconds.

The MassSpec Pen is a groundbreaking real-time diagnostic tool designed by a team of researchers at the University of Texas. According to a new study in journal Science Translational Medicine, the device makes use of tiny droplets of water to examine human tissue for cancer with 96% accuracy.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at University of Texas says, “It’s a gentle, simple chemical process.” He also adds, “It’s highly specific and highly sensitive. The fact that it’s non-destructive brings a new approach to cancer diagnosis.”
He also said: “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.’

“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.”

For the most part, cutting out all cancerous tissue while also avoiding or preventing harm to healthy tissue is a delicate process. For instance, In the case of a woman with breast cancer, a doctor needs to get rid of the tumor and other unhealthy tissues while maintaining the rest of the breast.

It’s important to note that the current method for detecting exactly where cancerous tissue ends and healthy tissues begin can be extremely slow and unreliable — it’s actually known as frozen section analysis. It typically takes up to half an hour for the tissue to be examined by a pathologist and this time wastage may expose the patient to infection, and that’s terrible.

Moreover, failure to remove enough of the cancerous tissue can lead to regrowth. On the flip side, cutting out too much healthy tissue to inhibit further cancer growth can have a negative impact on the patient — it could lead to loss of speech in thyroid cancer patients and nerve damage in breast cancer patients.

“Anytime we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that’s something we want to do.” says James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

He also adds: “This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

MassSPec Pen produces a tiny droplet of water that soaks up biological materials from a person’s cell during surgery. It is eventually sucked back and tested by an instrument called a mass spectrometer, which is capable of identifying thousands of molecules before displaying the results on a computer screen.

The team looks forward to testing the revolutionary device during cancer surgeries in 2018.