Special ‘pen’ detects cancer by touch

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Is the pen mightier than the scalpel?

Although a surgeon’s goal is to remove cancer in its entirety during excision surgery, achieving negative margins (that’s the absence of cancer cells at the outer edge of the removal) can be challenging. These doctors/surgeons developed a handheld pen-like device that rapidly identifies the molecular profile of tissues using a small volume water droplet and mass spectrometry analysis.

A water droplet is transported to a mass spectrometer, which characterizes diagnostic proteins, lipids, and metabolites. The pen was used to rapidly distinguish tumor from healthy tissue during surgery in mice, without requiring specific labeling or imaging and without evidence of tissue destruction.

They used the MasSpec Pen to do realtime molecular analysis of 20 human cancer thin tissue sections and 253 human patient tissue samples including normal and cancerous tissues from breast, lung, thyroid, and ovary.

The pen allowed them to find and identify cancers with  overall accuracy of 96.3%, as well as the prediction of benign and malignant thyroid tumors and different histologic subtypes of lung cancer.

The results provide evidence that the MasSpec Pen could potentially be used as a clinical and intraoperative technology for live cancer diagnoses.

View original article and paper here.