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Varex Imaging

Nondestructive Device Detects Cancer in Ten Seconds

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 20 Sep 2017
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Image: The MasSpec Pen detects cancerous tissue during surgery (Photo courtesy of UT Austin).
Image: The MasSpec Pen detects cancerous tissue during surgery (Photo courtesy of UT Austin).
A novel handheld mass spectrometry system can analyze tissues to detect cancerous tissue during surgery, claims a new study.

The MasSpec Pen, under development at the University of Texas (UT, Austin, USA), Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX, USA), and other institutions, is designed to identify the molecular profile of tissues using a small volume water droplet. After just three seconds of gentle physical contact with a tissue surface, the water droplet is transported to a mass spectrometer, where biomolecules are extracted and characterized for diagnostic proteins, lipids, and metabolites. The rapid molecular profiling of the tissues can be used to distinguish tumor from healthy tissue during surgery, without specific labeling or imaging.

In an ex-vivo molecular analysis of 20 thin human cancer tissue sections and 253 human patient tissue samples--including normal and cancerous tissues from breast, lung, thyroid, and ovary--the spectra obtained presented rich molecular profiles characterized by a variety of potential cancer biomarkers. Statistical classifiers derived from histologically validated molecular database allowed cancer prediction with high sensitivity (96.4%), specificity (96.2%), and overall accuracy (96.3%), as well as prediction of benign and malignant thyroid tumors and different histologic subtypes of lung cancer.

The researchers added that the classifier allowed accurate diagnosis of cancer even in marginal tumor regions presenting mixed histologic composition. They then went on to demonstrate that the MasSpec Pen could also be used for in-vivo cancer diagnosis during surgery performed in tumor-bearing mouse models, without causing any observable tissue harm or stress to the animal. The study was published on September 6, 2017, in Science Translational Medicine.

“Cancer cells have dysregulated metabolism as they're growing out of control. 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,” said senior author Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, PhD, of UT. “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.' It's just heartbreaking when that's not the case.”

“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. This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind,” added study co-author James Suliburk, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine. “Our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery.”

Related Links:
University of Texas
Baylor College of Medicine

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