New Experimental Pen Could Help Surgeons Detect Cancer in Seconds

Device would almost instantly scan molecular markers to detect cancerous cells.

September 9, 2017 5:00 am

A new, highly experimental, pen-like probe is being developed to help surgeons detect cancerous tumors. Laboratory tests show that the device, called theMasSpec Pen, can scan molecular fingerprints to distinguish between cancerous tumors and healthy ones, writes Chicago TribuneThe process takes mere seconds.

Livia Eberlin, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas, is leading the work. Her pen works by being placed directly on the suspect tissue. It then pulls molecules from the cells in that location, which software then analyzes to see if it is healthy or not.

Eberlin noted that one of a cancer patient’s worst nightmares is undergoing surgery to remove a tumor without knowing for certain if some cancer remains. Right now, surgeons must test a thin layer of tissue surrounding the tumor to ensure there are no cancer cells lingering at the edge. But getting this tissue and testing it is difficult and time-consuming. Eberlin’s team is hoping to start testing their device next year, mainly on breast cancer patients.

So far, the pen has been more than 96 percent accurate in diagnosing cancer. It has been tested on 253 patients with lung, ovary, thyroid or breast tumors, reports the Tribune. 

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