Medical 'Pen' Can Detect Cancer in 10 Seconds


It might look like a stylus, but it's capable of much more than just writing.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin created a medical "pen" that can detect cancer in roughly 10 seconds.

The MasSpec Pen is a handheld device resembling a stylus, and can identify cancerous tissue during surgery. Tests performed by researchers on tissues removed from 253 human cancer patients found the device was accurate more than 96% of the time.

“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,'" said Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, assistant professor of chemistry at UT Austin who designed the study, in a statement. "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."

Researchers are working to secure patents for the technology, which they expect to test during oncologic surgeries in 2018.

The pen releases a drop of water on the tissue, allowing small molecules to migrate into the drop. The water is then pulled back into the device and analyzed using a mass spectrometer. On a computer screen, doctors will be able to read whether the issue is normal or cancerous.

"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," said James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine who worked on the project. "This technology does all three."