MasSpec Pen can detect cancer tissues in seconds

MasSpec Pen can detect cancer tissues


Scientists invented a pen-like tool that rapidly and accurately identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, delivering results in about 10 seconds. The MasSpec Pen is an innovative handheld instrument that gives surgeons precise diagnostic information about what tissue to cut or preserve, helping improve treatment and reduce the chances of cancer recurrence.

Telling cancerous tissue apart from healthy tissue is important during surgery, and not just to ensure that all the tumor is removed. Taking too much healthy tissue can also dangerous, raising the prospect of damage to muscle and nerve function, along with other painful side effects.

Currently surgeons follow Frozen Section Analysis for diagnosing cancers, and also determine the difference in cancer and normal tissue during surgery. But, this method is slow and sometimes inaccurate. In this method, each sample can take 30 minutes and more to prepare and interpret by a pathologist, which increases the risk to the patient of infection. In some type of cancers, frozen section interpretation can difficult, yielding unreliable results in as many as 10 to 20 percent of cases.

MasSpec Pen

The MasSpec Pen is much quicker and more accurate than current approaches. During tests, researchers remove tissues from 253 human cancer patients comprising both healthy and cancerous tissues of the breast, lung, thyroid and ovary, and takes about 10 seconds to provide a diagnosis. The device also detects cancer in marginal regions between normal and cancer tissues that presented mixed cellular composition.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at UT Austin, says, cancer cells have abnormal metabolism. These metabolites are so different, we extract and analyze with the MasSpec Pen to obtain a molecular fingerprint of the tissue. However, the MasSpec Pen rapidly provides diagnostic molecular information without causing tissue damage.


The pen simply needs to be held against the tissue while a foot pedal is used to kick off the process. This sees a drop of water fall onto the tissue, allowing small molecules to be absorbed into the liquid. This water is then fed into a mass spectrometer to detect thousands of molecules and interpret the molecular fingerprints of various cancers.

Once the analysis complete, a connected computer screen will automatically display “Normal” or “Cancer” within about 10 seconds. When testing the MasSpec Pen, it proved more than 96 percent accurate and also detects cancer in marginal areas between normal and cancerous tissue.

Researchers say, this technology allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.

More information: [Science Translational Medicine]