It’s really amazing! Only 10 seconds is all it could take to detect cancerous tissue during surgery, thanks to a novel device that researchers believe has the potential to transform cancer treatment.
Scientist have recently invented the new cancer cell detecting pen device and named it MasSpec pen. The pen is highly accurate in detecting cancer in human tissue samples, and it did so in just 10 seconds.
The main researcher Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, of the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues say that the tool could vastly improve the accuracy of cancer surgery and help to reduce recurrence of the disease.
The scientist team recently reported their findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Last year, more than 1.6 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in the United States, and more than 595,000 people died from the disease, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country.
Surgery remains one of the primary diagnostic and treatment strategies for cancer. It aims to detect and remove cancerous tissue and prevent it from spreading toothier parts of the body.
However,distinguishing between healthy and cancerous tissue can prove tricky for surgeons, making it difficult for them to remove all cancer remnants.
When a patient goes through surgery to remove a tumour, surgeons have to make sure they can cut out as much of the cancerous tissue as possible without endangering them, in order to increase the odds of beating the illness. At the same time, you don’t want to cut out more flesh than necessary either.
At present, surgeons send tissue samples to a lab for analysis to pinpoint just what needs to go, but the process can take days.
Alternatively, a less accurate time-saving solution involves freezing tissue and analyzing it during the operation, which can take 15 to 20 minutes. Frozen section analysis - also referred to ascryosection. This involves taking a tissue sample from a cancer patient during surgery and transferring it to a laboratory for freezing, where it is then assessed by a pathologist.
But Eberlin and colleagues say that this method can be slow, which may increase a patient's risk of surgery-related complications. Furthermore, they note that frozen section analysis can be unreliable for some cancer types. Instead of all process, the MasSpec Pen can do the same job just as accurately in about 10 seconds.
Working Process of MasSpec Pen
The inventors believe that the MasSpec Pen could offer the fastest, more accurate detection of cancerous tissue during real time surgery.
The newly invented state-of-the-art device works by identifying tissue metabolites that are unique to cancer cells, using a technique called mass spectrometry.
"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," explains Eberlin.
The device uses 10 microlitres of water to extract molecules from the tissue being tested, which is then sent through tubes to an instrument that analyzes it for a cancer fingerprint.
The molecular fingerprint that has been drawn from tissue is then assessed using"statistical classifier" software.
The research team "trained" this software to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous molecular fingerprints by feeding it data from hundreds of healthy and cancerous human tissue samples, including tissue from the lung, breast, and ovary.
As soon as the device has assessed the tissue, it will flag the words "Normal"or "Cancer" on a computer screen to inform the surgeon.
Therefore cancer detection steps are as follows:
- The pen device is used in real time during surgery.
- When touching the pen to an area of the patient’s body, a drop of water extracts tiny molecules from the patient’s tissue.
- The MasSpec Pen is plugged into a mass spectrometer, which can measure and analyze those molecules.
- The spectrometer also tells surgeons whether or not the molecules they’re looking at are healthy tissue or cancerous.
- In just a matter of seconds, the surgeons can then identify the location of the cancerous tissue that needs to be cut, making it that much easier to ensure none of the cancer is left behind.
The MasSpec Pen is more than 96 percent accurate
While testing on 253 tissue samples from healthy patients and patients with cancer,the device took around 10 seconds to identify cancerous tissue, and it yielded96.3 percent accuracy, 96.2 percent specificity, and 96.4 percent sensitivity.
Furthermore,the MasSpec Pen was found to accurately detect cancer in live mouse models,without causing any damage to healthy 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," says Eberlin.
The researchers believe that their novel creation could help to improve outcomes for patients who undergo cancer surgery.
"Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery, or a safer surgery, that's something we want to do," says study co-author James Suliburk, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. "This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind."
"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," adds Eberlin.
"[...]our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery."
Researcher’s next step is to continue refining the pen to analyze finer patches of tissues. Currently, the pen can analyze a 0.06 inch patch of tissue, but according to the BBC, researchers have already developed pens that can analyze 0.02 inch patches.
Although the prototype seems very encouraging, the scientists have yet to test the pen on many more tissue samples, as well as during actual surgeries in clinical trials before it are approved. However, they’re still optimistic and expect the MasSpec Pen to be in widespread testing in hospitals by next year.