Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new handheld pen for rapid intraoperative cancer detection. Their work demonstrates that the tool can identify different molecular profiles between cancerous and non-cancerous tissue without harming the sampled tissues. This exciting development can one day improve cancer diagnosis and allow for more precise surgical removal of tumors.
Currently, surgeons rely on tissue sectioning and histology to determine whether or not the tumor has been fully excised. This process, which takes at least 30 minutes and requires trained operators, is time- and resource-intensive. Other methods for tissue sampling have been developed, yet they require physically cutting the tissue, which can be undesirable in the case of brain cancer, for example.
The new system is dubbed the “MasSpec Pen.” It is a disposable, handheld tool that delivers a single water droplet to the tissue surface, which samples the biomolecules. The droplet is then gently sucked up by the pen and sent into a mass spectrometer, which develops a molecular profile based on proteins, lipids, and metabolites in the sample.
The UT Austin team demonstrated that the tool could identify different molecular profiles between cancer and noncancerous tissue. Using statistical methods to classify human samples, they showed an accuracy of 96.3% of identifying whether a tissue was cancerous or not. They also used the MasSpec Pen on a mouse that had cancer and were able to identify its unique molecular spectra, demonstrating that the pen did not cause observable tissue damage or harm the animal. The device is currently in clinical testing at the Texas Medical Center for thyroid, breast, and pancreatic cancer surgeries.
“It’s been shown with extensive clinical data that highly effective surgeries are those that remove the most cancer, but also preserve the most normal tissue,” says principal investigator Livia Eberlin, Ph.D. “We created the MasSpec Pen because we thought it would be incredible if there was a technology that could actually provide molecular information right in the operating room in living tissues within a time frame that could expedite surgical decisions. We are continuing research and development of this technology in my lab by continuing to improve our technology and validating its performance across different cancer types. We are also exploring new applications in surgery including minimally invasive surgical procedures, as well as outside the operating room in forensics and agricultural applications.”
Here’s a press briefing with Livia Eberlin, PhD, at the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition:
Technology info page: MasSpec Pen…
The publication in Science Translational Medicine: Nondestructive tissue analysis for ex vivo and in vivo cancer diagnosis using a handheld mass spectrometry system