This week, researchers at the SXSW Conference will be presenting the MasSpec Pen, a device that could detect cancer.
For years, early cancer detection has been at the center of many medical studies. Now, things are about to change as researchers from the University of Texas will be introducing to the public a device that can immediately recognize early signs of cancer — the MasSpec Pen.
According to reports, the pen-like device will be showcased this week at the SXSW Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas.
“The MasSpec Pen is a handheld device coupled to a mass spectrometer that can diagnose cancer during surgery in twenty seconds,” Marta Sans, graduate research assistant for the Livia Eberlin Research Group, was quoted as saying.
Imagine getting diagnosed with cancer in less than a minute. Not hours, days, months, or years. Just a few seconds and get immediate treatment.
If the handheld device lives up to its claims, it will be considered a significant milestone in the field of cancer treatment studies.
How the MasSpec Pen Works
The MasSpec Pen works by holding it against a patient’s tissue. It has a foot pedal that triggers the automated analysis, yielding results just after a few seconds.
For the device to gather enough information, it releases a drop of water onto the patient’s tissue. After that, the water sample containing the tissue molecules will be driven into the mass spectrometer which will read the thousands of molecules as a molecular fingerprint.
“Then, we can create a molecular fingerprint that can say if this is cancer or if it’s not based on the molecules of the pen,” Sans said.
Apparently, the MasSpec Pen will show the words “Normal” or “Cancer” on a display screen once it’s done with analyzing the tissue. This will allow surgeons to know which part of the tissue has to be removed from the patient’s body.
Unlike the frozen section analysis, the current method for diagnosing cancer during surgery, the MasSpec enables doctors to study the tissue while it is still in the body of a person.
“The doctor may take it out, may have to send it to the pathologist for a frozen section. Meanwhile, everyone’s waiting for a report from the pathologist to see if the margin’s clear,” Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, said.
Frozen section analysis has been around for nearly a hundred years. However, it still has many limitations, including a slow and sometimes inaccurate diagnosis.
Furthermore, a pathologist requires as much as 45 minutes to prepare and interpret the sample. This alone increases a patient’s risk of infection.
Aside from that, frozen section analysis is quite difficult to interpret when it comes to certain types of cancers. This is crucial since a tissue or organ that has been wrongfully removed can no longer be put back.
“We operate to remove a part of or all of the thyroid,” Dr. James Sulliburk, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, explained. “What we find is that a majority of the patients will not have cancer, but until now, our diagnostics were not to the point, yet, where we could improve that procedure.”
These limitations are what the MasSpec Pen is hoping to eliminate. Not only is it fast, according to the researchers, it is also able to diagnose four types of cancer with over 96 percent accuracy after analyzing 300 patient samples.
Currently, the MasSpec Pen has not been tested yet on any human during surgery. In the coming months, the device will be installed in three Texas hospitals: MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dell Medical School, and Baylor College of Medicine.
The device is also waiting for FDA approval, which could take some years.