Handheld pen-like device takes just seconds to detect cancer cells in patients

Scientists have developed a handheld pen like device that is capable of detecting cancer in seconds that could be used to ensure that every last dangerous cell is removed from a patient’s body.

Researchers at the University of Texas say the device is capable of identifying cancerous cells more than 150 times faster than existing technology.

The MasSpec Pen can give surgeons precise information about which tissue to cut or preserve, helping to improve treatment and reduce the chances of cancer reoccurring, they said.

Tests conducted by the team found the tool took just 10 seconds to provide a diagnosis and was more than 96 per cent accurate.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry who designed the study, said: “If you talk to cancer patients after surgery, one of the first things many will say is ‘I hope the surgeon got all the cancer out’.

“It’s just heartbreaking when that’s not the case. But our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery.”

The current method for establishing the boundary between cancer and normal tissues, called frozen section analysis, can be slow and unreliable.

Not removing enough of the cancerous tissue can cause tumours to regrow.

“This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

The pen works by releasing a tiny droplet of water onto the tissue, which soaks up chemicals inside the cells. It is then sucked back up and analysed by an instrument known as a mass spectrometer, which can detect thousands of molecules, before doctors are given the results on a computer screen.

The team hopes to start testing the new device during oncology surgeries next year.

Earlier this week a team from the University of Edinburgh demonstrated a camera that can look straight through the human body in order to help doctors track medical tools known as endoscopes. 

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