A research team from the University of Texas says the ‘MasSpec’ device could make surgery to remove a tumor quicker, safer, and more precise, as well as avoiding the “heartbreak” of leaving any of the cancer behind.
The tests, published in Science Translational Medicine, suggest the pen is accurate 96% of the time.
MasSpec Pen focuses on the unique characteristics of cancer cells. Their furious drive to grow and spread means their internal chemistry is markedly different compared to healthy tissue.
The pen is touched on to a suspected cancerous tumor and releases a tiny droplet of water.
Chemicals inside the living cells move into the droplet, which is then sucked back up the device for analysis.
The pen is then plugged into a mass spectrometer, a device that can measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second.
It produces a distinctive chemical fingerprint that tells doctors whether they are looking at a benign or malignant tumor, according to the researchers.
The challenge for surgeons is finding the border between the cancer and normal tissue.
In some tumors it is obvious, but in others the boundary between benign and malignant tissue can be blurred.
MasSpec should help doctors ensure none of the cancer is left behind.