WATCH | The handheld device that accurately diagnoses cancer in seconds


A team of US researchers have developed a way of accurately spotting cancer within seconds, allowing surgeons to make sure they remove all and only cancerous tissue. Reuters’ Stuart McDill reports.

A new device could be about to revolutionise the way we detect cancer – during surgery. The MassSpec pen will give surgeons almost instant results on what to cut out and what to leave.

“A ‘MassSpec Pen’ is a non-destructive hand-held device which can be used to do realtime diagnosis of human tissue to help the doctor to do the margin analysis,” Jialing Zhang, research associate at the University of Texas at Austin, saying.

Developed at the University of Texas at Austin the system uses a drop of water to capture the molecules that all tissue gives off. Called metabolites – they form a set of biomarkers unique to each type of cancer. That molecular fingerprint is then examined in a mass spectrometer – and compared with more than 250 different cancerous and healthy tissue types.

“We have some tubing that delivers a control water droplet to the tip of the pen and then this water is used to extract lipids, metabolites and proteins from the tissue sample and those lipids can be characteristic of the tissue type so if you have cancer you know you’re going to get a different composition. And then this water droplet is delivered into the Mass Spectrometer with the different tubing that we have have and then this information can be analysed,” Marta Sans Escofet, research assistant at the University of Texas at Austin, saying.

A surgeon simply holds the disposable pen against tissue they want to test and 10 seconds later the results are ready.

“So what we have now can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 weeks and with the ‘MassSpec Pen’ we can get information in about 10 seconds, so it’s quite an improvement,” Escofet saying.

The team have filed U.S. patent applications for the technology and are working to secure world-wide patents.