The researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have engineered an innovative hand-held pen for efficient intraoperative cancer detection. The study demonstrates that the equipment can identify the molecular formation in both cancerous and non-cancerous tissues without causing any harm to the sample tissues. The new technique is expected to improve the cancer diagnosis and allow the precise surgical removal of tumors.
Currently, the surgeons favor tissue sectioning and histology to determine whether the tumor is has been fully removed. The process of removal is time extensive and requires trained surgeons. It is resource-intensive as well. The other methods of tissue sampling developed until now require physically cutting the tissue away, which is not advisable in the case of brain cancer.
The MasSpec Pen: design and purpose
The MaSpec Pen is a disposable handheld pen-like device that identifies the molecular profile of tissues by using a small water droplet and mass spectrometry analysis. After a gentle contact with the tissue, the water droplet travels to a spectrometer, which identifies diagnostic proteins, lipid profiles and metabolites. The tool uses a machine-learning algorithm and diagnosis is provided with shows the probability of the presence of cancer. The tool was able to detect cancerous tumors during surgery in mice without any evidence of tissue destruction.
The team of researchers demonstrated that the tool could successfully identify several different molecular profiles between the cancerous and non-cancerous tissues. The tool showed 96.3% accuracy in identifying whether the tissue was cancerous or not. When used on a mouse model, the tool did not cause any damage to the tissue of the animal.
The device has been tested on several cancer types such as pancreatic, thyroid, brain, lungs, ovarian and brain cancer. The published research showed the accuracy, high sensitivity, and specificity of the tool on 253 unique samples of tissue. Research is being conducted on expanding the sample size of the tool and introduce to new cancer types. The researchers are currently testing the use of the device in other applications in which tissue differentiation is required for the clinical outcomes.
According to principal investigator Livia Eberlin, Ph.D., it has been shown that extensive clinical data and highly effective surgeries remove cancer cells but hamper the healthy tissues as well. The MasSpec Pen was created to offer a technology that can provide the molecular formation of the cancerous tumors in the operating room, in a time frame that could help make the doctors make effective surgical decisions.