MasSpec Pen can Detect Cancer During Surgery Accurately

MasSpec Pen can Detect Cancer During Surgery Accurately

by Dr. Lakshmi Venkataraman on Aug 27 2019 6:07 PM
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  • New handheld device called 'MasSpec Pen' helped doctors to rapidly and accurately differentiate between normal and cancer tissue during surgery
  • This device ensures precise removal of tumor tissue in order to avoid cancer recurrence and leave behind adequate adjacent normal tissue
  • The handheld 'MasSpec Pen' device helps to get results within 10 seconds
MasSpec Pen, a handheld device could one day allow surgeons to differentiate between cancerous and adjacent normal healthy tissue much more accurately within seconds, according to a recent research undertaken at the University of Texas at Austin.
"It's been shown with extensive clinical data that highly effective surgeries are those that remove the most cancer, but also preserve the most normal tissue," says principal investigator Livia Eberlin, Ph.D. "We created the MasSpec Pen because we thought it would be incredible if there was a technology that could actually provide molecular information right in the operating room in living tissues within a time frame that could expedite surgical decisions."

The findings of the study are presented at the annual meeting of the American Cancer Society (ACS). The ACS is the world’s biggest scientific organization and this year alone over 9500 papers will be presented on a wide variety of topics.


Why is the 'MasSpec Pen' Superior to Existing Methods?

  • The research was prompted by the fact that currently, accurate identification of tumor margins relies on the century old histopathological technique in which the results take about 30 minutes
  • Additionally, artifacts that may develop during the processing of the histopathological tissue by freezing can also affect the subjective interpretation of the findings
To overcome these issues, Eberlin and his team of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin created the MasSpec Pen, which is a handheld device that is biocompatible and connected to a high-performance mass spectrometer.


How Does the MasSpec Pen Work?

  • Initially, a drop of water is deposited on the exposed patient tissue for approximately seconds
  • The surgeon touches the tissue with the pen, and activates the system using a foot pedal
  • The droplet is thus transferred to the mass spectrometer, which will identify the molecular pattern of the tissue
  • Following this, everything is automated and coded
  • Machine learning algorithms analyze the molecular information of the tissue and give a presumptive result, within 10 seconds, which the surgeons can act upon as appropriate
  • So far the MasSpec Pen has been tested on over 800 surgically removed tissues, including normal and cancerous tissues from the breast, thyroid, brain, pancreatic, lung and ovary
  • Also, freshly removed surgical patient tissue has also been studied and the results appear promising
The results of the study, therefore, suggest that one day, surgeons may be able to use the MasSpec Pen in the operating room rapidly and can correctly identify the margins of tumor and the adjacent normal tissue. This will ensure that all tumor tissue is removed and the risk of recurrence is reduced. Also, it leaves behind sufficient normal tissue to allow smooth functioning of the organ.


Scope of the Study

  • The MasSpec Pen method can be applied to minimally invasive surgeries
  • It can also be applied in forensics and in agriculture
In summary, the handheld MasSpec Pen device is a boon to both doctors and patients alike to help accurate delineation of tumor margins, prevent cancer recurrence and improve patient outcome.

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