A new device can detect whether or not a tumor is cancerous in just 10 seconds – and should be in operating rooms as soon as 2018.
The cancer ‘pen’, called the MasSpec Pen, was designed by researchers at the University of Texas Austin, and it will be able to bring immediate diagnoses to surgeons’ fingertips as they are operating on patients.
When using it, doctors will simply place the pen on a patient’s tissue and give it a few seconds to read that tissue’s molecular composition. Then, one of two words will appear on a computer screen in the OR: ‘Normal’ or ‘Cancer’.
Experts are hopeful that the device will help surgeons conduct procedures that are safer, quicker and more precise, since they could potentially remove all cancerous tissue from a patient in one go.
They say it could bring down the number of patients who relapse after having cancerous tissue removed and need more operations to fight the disease.
The MasSpec Pen is more than 96 percent accurate in distinguishing diseased from healthy tissue in real-time while a patient is on the operating table.
Researchers who developed it hope it will enable the removal of all traces of malignant masses, reducing the risk of cancerous cells getting left behind.
The current state-of-the-art method for diagnosing cancers during surgery is called frozen section analysis.
This process is slow and often inaccurate: samples take 30 minutes to prepare and they then have to be interpreted by a pathologist.
And speed is important because the longer a patient remains on the operating table, the greater their risk of getting an infection or reacting negatively to anesthesia.
For some types of cancers, frozen section analysis is extremely unreliable, yielding false results in as many as 20 percent of cases.
But even this method for diagnosing is modern, as most pathology labs require several days to evaluate if cancerous cells remain in a patient’s tissue after they have had a tumor removed during surgery.
The researchers at the University of Texas Austin who developed the MasSpec Pen included experts in the medicine, engineering and chemistry fields.
Their research was funded by their university, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas.
They have filed US patent applications and they are working to secure worldwide patents.
The technology is expected to start being tested during cancer surgeries as soon as next year.