New cancer 'pen' could lead to fast tumor detection
The pen is accurate nearly 96 percent of the time and could help surgeons better remove tumors during surgery.

By Jeremy Morrow | 12 hours ago

Scientists at the University of Texas have developed a new handheld device that is able to identify cancerous tissue within 10 seconds, a new study published in Science Translational Medicine reports.

The device -- known as the MasSpec Pen -- works by releasing a small amount of water down onto a patient's tissue. From there, the liquidtakes chemicals from living cells and then gets sucked back up into the pen. Researchers can then place the fluid into a mass spectrometer that shows if the tissue is cancerous or not.

The pen is accurate nearly 96 percent of the time and could help surgeons better remove tumors during surgery.

Though it may seem simple, it is not always easy to tell the difference between cancerous and normal tissue. Not only that, but there are many risks that come with tissue removal. If you take too little there is a chance the cells will grow into another tumor, but if you take too much it can cause damage to vital organs.

The new pen should help with this and enable doctors to properly identify areas that need to be worked on.

"What's exciting about this technology is how clearly it meets a clinical need," said study co-author Livia Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, told BBC News. "The tool is elegant and simple and can be in the hands of surgeons in a short time."

Researchers have tested the new technology on 253 different samples, and they plan to continue trials up through next year. However, there are still some obstacles that need to be overcome. For example, while the pen is cheap to make, mass spectrometers are both expensive and bulky. That could make the process more complicated than it needs to be.

Even so, there is no doubt that the device shows a lot of promise. Not only does it represent a quicker and more precise surgery, but it could also speed up the detection process and help doctors better learn about their patient's cancer.

"This is a good example of a tool that empowers our transition to precision medicine where the treatment can be done with much higher levels of confidence," said study co-author Thomas Milner, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas, according to TIME. "Treatment can be planned and given where the outcomes are known. This is one tool along that path."

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