The fields of medicine and technology work together very well as scientists and engineers combine efforts to improve health outcomes all over the world. The latest development in this collaboration, then, is a simple new device that, researchers say, can detect several types of cancer in a matter of minutes.
University of Texas (Austin) researchers are touting the MassSpec Pen as a real-time diagnostics tool. In a study published recently in Science Translational Medicine, the group says that this easy-to-use handheld device simply uses tiny water droplets to analyze human tissue samples to seek out cancerous cells at an accuracy of 96 percent.
Study author Livia Schiavinato Eberlin comments, “It’s a gentle, simple chemical process.” The UT-Austin assistant professor of chemistry goes on to say, “It’s highly specific and highly sensitive. The fact that its non-destructive brings a new approach to cancer diagnosis.”
The current cancer detection technology is called Frozen Section Analysis and it is slow and grossly inaccurate. A single sample cane take 30 minutes or more to prepare and for a pathologist to interpret; and every second lost is more time for the cancer to metastasize. And then, of course, even if they are able to find cancerous cells it gets harder and harder, over time, to remove all of the cancer.
As a matter of fact, Eberlin comments, “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. 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.”
But in 253 human cancer patient tests, the MasSpec Pen only took about 10 seconds to provide a far more accurate diagnosis.
Eberlin continues, “Cancer cells have dysregulated metabolism as they’re growing out of control. Because the metabolites in cancer and normal cells are so different, we extract and analyze them with the MasSpec Pen to obtain a molecular fingerprint of the tissue. What is incredible is that through this simple and gentle chemical process, the MasSpec Pen rapidly provides diagnostic molecular information without causing tissue damage.”
With that, the research team hopes to be able to formulate this technology for widespread oncology testing sometime next year.