Pathologists have the power to diagnose cancer and provide essential guidance for treating it. But analysing tissue samples to see if they’re cancerous usually takes about one to two days to finish. Factors such as getting a second opinion, the type of tissue being used, and doing additional tests are one of the reasons that make the process longer. And from a patient’s perspective, the feeling of uncertainty can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.
However, a device that looks like a pen could greatly accelerate that process in just seconds. The device could help future surgeons detect whether a certain tissue is healthy or not. This could also prevent relapses caused by cutting not enough tissue, giving instant results.
The pen-sized device has a nozzle that releases a small drop of water. The pen gathers a sample when it is placed on a tissue by using the drop of water to soak up sugars, fats and proteins. The sample is then transferred to a mass spectrometer, comparing the data gathered to the spectrometer’s database. From that, algorithms from the spectrometer then conclude if the tissue is malignant or not within 10 seconds.
Livia Eberlin of the University of Texas and her team has tested the handheld mass spectrometry system on 253 human tissue samples. These samples came from the lungs, breasts, thyroids, ovaries, and other healthy tissues. “It gave the right answer 96 per cent of the time,” Eberlin says. The researchers also used the device to guide surgeons to completely remove tumors in mice, and hopefully test the device in hospitals in 2018.
Eberlin says that about 10 percent of relapses happen because of cancerous tissue regrowth that was missed during surgery. “The speed and accuracy of our device could really help on treatment options and decisions,” she says.
Nicola Valeri, a cancer surgeon at the Royal Marsden NHS Trust in London approves this research and that it could lead to more accurate surgeries to remove different types of cancer. “Once this pre-clinical data has been validated in clinical trials, the pen-size mass spectrometry might improve diagnosis during operations, and help identify micro-metastatic cancer deposits,” Valeri says.
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