Determining where a tumor margins are is one of the greatest challenges for surgeons treating cancer. Tumors have nearly all the same characteristics as healthy tissue, and so it’s standard practice to send biopsy samples of tissue to the pathology lab for margin inspection. This takes time, and often too long for the patient under anesthesia and surgical team to wait for the results to come in, which means there are revision surgeries.
But, there’s another way faster way, that can in theory be done inside the operating room, and that is using a mass spectrometer to do a molecular analysis of the tissue sample. The problem with this technique is that the sample is destroyed and the results cannot be sent to the pathology lab for further verification, which may be necessary.
Now a non-destructive way of doing mass spectroscopy, developed at Purdue University, will hopefully allow for quick verification of complete tumor removal, and therefore help to reduce the number of repeat surgeries.
“Our method allows researchers to choose solvent combinations that don’t affect the morphology, or form, of the tissue. This means the tissue’s native structure is preserved and after the experiment you’re able to take your tissue and stain it or use it for other experiments to retrieve complementary chemical information,” in a published statement said Valentina Pirro, a research chemist at Purdue. “The analysis is extremely simple and straightforward, because we can analyze tissue sections or smears with no sample preparation and then validate our results with standard histopathology. Essentially this solvent is used as a spray that is directed onto a small area of a sample and extracts molecules contained within. We can run an image by simply moving the spray right on top of a tissue section or smear.”
In order to literally bring this technology into the OR, the Purdue team mounted a commercial Desorption Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometer (DESI-MS) onto a conventional hospital cart, allowing it to be wheeled into and out of the OR as needed. The testing process takes just a few minutes and the surgeon can proceed accordingly, depending on the results. But, the method is not fool-proof, and the pathology lab still has a chance to review the sample because its morphology remains intact.
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