Oncology Central

Novel device can detect cancerous tissue within seconds

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin (TX, USA) have created the MasSpec Pen, a handheld instrument that surgeons can utilize to distinguish between cancerous and healthy tissue within seconds. This novel device has the potential to improve treatment and reduce cancer recurrence rates.

Recently published in Science Translational Medicine, the study was led by Livia Schiavinato Eberlin (The University of Texas at Austin) and aimed to improve the way cancerous tissue is diagnosed during surgery, by reducing waiting time and increasing accuracy.

“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,’ ” highlights Eberlin. “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 effectiveness of the MasSpec Pen was investigated in tests on tissues from 253 cancer patients. Overall, the MasSpec Pen took around 10 seconds to diagnose whether or not the tissue was cancerous, and was over 96% accurate.  The device was also able to detect cancer in marginal regions that presented mixed cellular composition between normal and cancer tissues.

“Cancer cells have dysregulated metabolism as they’re growing out of control,” explained Eberlin. “Because the metabolites in cancer and normal cells are so different, we extract and analyze them with the MasSpec Pen to obtain a molecular fingerprint of the tissue. What is incredible is that through this simple and gentle chemical process, the MasSpec Pen rapidly provides diagnostic molecular information without causing tissue damage.”

“Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that’s something we want to do,” commented James Suliburk (Baylor College of Medicine, TX, USA). “This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

The team and UT Austin have filed U.S. patent applications for the technology and are now working to secure worldwide patents. “When designing the MasSpec Pen, we made sure the tissue remains intact by coming into contact only with water and the plastic tip of the MasSpec Pen during the procedure,” concluded Jialing Zhang (The University of Texas at Austin). “The result is a biocompatible and automated medical device that we are so excited to translate to the clinic very soon.”


University of Texas press release; Zhang J, Rector J, Lin J et al. Nondestructive tissue analysis for ex vivo and in vivo cancer diagnosis using a handheld mass spectrometry system. Sci. Transl. Med. – doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan3968 (2017).




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