Handheld Pen Diagnoses Cancer During Surgery | AIChE

Handheld Pen Diagnoses Cancer During Surgery


A new pen-like handheld device can diagnose cancer within seconds in the operating room.

The device, known as the MasSpec Pen, could make it easier for surgeons to confirm they have removed all of the cancerous tissue from a patient, thereby preventing the cancer from spreading after surgery. What’s more, it identifies cancer without destroying or damaging tissue. It will likely take at least a few years for the MasSpec Pen to become available in hospitals, but researchers are buoyed by the device’s 96.3% accuracy rate in early testing.

“We hope that this is going to improve cancer surgeries and patient lives,” says Thomas Milner, a professor of biomedical engineering at the Univ. of Texas (UT) at Austin. Milner got involved in developing the MasSpec Pen while working with his collaborator, study leader Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, a professor of chemistry at UT Austin. It began as a pie-in-the-sky idea, Milner says. “We were talking, and she said, ‘You know I have this dream of a pen,’” Milner says. “And when she described it to me I said, ‘Oh, I think we can help you build that.’”

What Eberlin envisioned was a handheld device a surgeon could use to quickly sample tiny sections of tissue around a cancerous mass or tumor. Currently, Milner says, surgical oncologists have to cut out tissue, send it to the hospital’s pathology lab, and await a pathologist’s judgment on whether the cells are cancerous or not. This can take at least a half-hour per sample, translating to a longer time under anesthesia for patients —...

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