‘Pen’ identifies cancer in just 10 seconds


A handheld device that looks like a pen can identify a cancer tissue within 10 seconds and it could be a safer, quicker and precise way of removing a tumour through surgery, according to scientists at the University of Texas.

Science Translation Medicine published tests which suggest this technology is accurate 96% of the time. The unique metabolism of cancer cells is used as added advantage by the MasSpec pen.
The pen releases a tiny droplet of water after it is touched onto a suspected cancer cell. Chemicals inside the living cells are sucked back into the pen after moving into the droplet.

Once the pen is plugged into it, a mass spectrometer is used to measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second.

A chemical fingerprint is produced which tells doctors whether it’s a healthy tissue or cancer.

The challenge faced by surgeons is to determine the border between the normal tissue and the cancer but the boundary between a diseased and healthy tissue can be blurred in some tumours.

However, the pen can help doctors ensure that the cancer is not left behind.

There is a complication while removing the tissues because if too little is removed then the cancerous cells can grow into another tumour and if too much is taken then there is a chance of damaging the brain.

“What’s exciting about this technology is how clearly it meets a clinical need. The tool is elegant and simple and can be in the hands of surgeons in a short time,” said Livia Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin while talking to BBC.

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