By: Savannah Smith | 09-08-2017 | News
Photo credit: AP

Revolutionary Surgical ‘Pen’ Can Detect Cancer in 10 Seconds

Cancer can now be detected within seconds - thanks to an amazing and revolutionary handheld “pen” to be used by surgeons. The new device allows medics a better chance of removing “every last trace” of the disease during surgery.

University of Texas researchers say the “pen” can identify cancerous cells more than 150 times faster than existing technology. It is called MasSpec Pen and it's capable of giving surgeons precise information about which tissue to cut or preserve, and in the process, helping to improve treatment and reduce the unfortunate chances of cancer reoccurring.

Tests conducted by the University of Texas team found the device only needed 10 seconds to provide a diagnosis for cancer. It also has a more than 96 percent accuracy rate.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, who designed the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, 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.”

The pen functions by releasing a tiny droplet of water onto the tissue, which soaks ups biological material, such as fat, proteins and sugars. It is then sucked back up and analyzed by an instrument called a mass spectrometer, which can detect thousands of molecules before doctors are provided the results on a computer screen.

Frozen section analysis, the current method for establishing where cancerous tissue ends and normal tissue begins, can be slow and unreliable. Usually, it can take up to half an hour for tissue to be analyzed by a pathologist, during which time the patient on the operating table is at risk of infection.

The implication of not removing enough of the cancerous tissue can mean tumors will regrow. On the other hand, removing too much healthy tissue to prevent further cancer growth can also have severe effects on the patient, including nerve damage in breast cancer patients and loss of speech in thyroid cancer patients.

James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, said: “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. This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

The team is optimistic that it can start testing the new device during cancer surgeries next year.


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