New hand-held 'pen' identifies cancer instantly

A new cancer pen is providing hope for cancer patients.
By Delila James | Sep 14, 2017
A multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers at the University of Texas at Austin has developed an innovative device that can quickly and accurately identify cancerous tissue in seconds, more than 150 times faster than current technology.

The handheld device, called the MasSpec Pen, provides surgeons with precise information about how much tissue to remove or preserve.

"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,'" said study designer and leader Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry of UT-Austin, in a statement. "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 works by identifying the unique set of metabolites and other biomarkers produced by each specific type of cancer.

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In tests on tissue samples taken from 253 cancer patients, the MasSpec Pen provided a diagnosis within 10 seconds and was more than 96 percent accurate. The pen also identified cancer in tissue with mixed cellular composition.

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

The research team and UT-Austin have applied for patents in the U.S. and are now in the process of getting international patents.

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