As technology takes a rise in the era of fiction coming to reality, scientists at the University of Texas have now come out with a handheld device that looks like a pen, which can identify cancerous tissues in just 10 seconds.
Scientists now claim that it will make surgery more precise, along with the opinion that the removal of tumour would be far quicker and safer. They further hope that it will avoid the “heartbreak” of leaving any cancer cell behind. Science Translational Medicine published tests that suggested the technology is accurate 96% of the time.
Known as the ‘MasSpec Pen’, it is said to take advantage of the unique metabolism of cancer cells.
HOW IT WORKS
The pen releases a tiny droplet of water after touching on to a suspected cancer tissue. After releasing a droplet, chemicals inside the living cell move into it, which is then sucked back up the pen for analysis. The pen is plugged into a mass spectrometer – a piece of kit that can measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second. It produces a chemical fingerprint that tells doctors whether they are looking at healthy tissue or cancer.
However, the challenge faced by surgeons is finding the border between the cancer and normal tissue. In some tumours it is obvious, but in others the boundary between healthy and diseased tissue can be blurred.
It is worth mentioning here that the technology has been tested on 253 samples as part of the study. The plan is to continue testing to refine the device before trialing it during operations next year.
Currently the pen analyses a patch of tissue 1.5mm across but researchers have developed even more refined pens that should be able to look at a patch of tissue 0.6mm across.
While the pen itself is cheap, the mass spectrometer is expensive.