A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin has invented a powerful tool that rapidly and accurately identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, delivering results in about 10 second s — more than 150 times as fast as existing technology.
According to a report in the Science Daily, 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.
The current state-of-the-art method for diagnosing cancers and determining the boundary between cancer and normal tissue during surgery, called Frozen Section Analysis, is slow and sometimes inaccurate. Each sample can take 30 minutes or more to prepare and interpret by a pathologist, which increases the risk to the patient of infection and negative effects of anaesthesia. And for some types of cancers, frozen section interpretation can be difficult, yielding unreliable results in as many as 10 to 20% of cases.
However, in tests on tissues removed from 253 human cancer patients, the MasSpec Pen took about 10 seconds to provide a diagnosis and was more than 96% accurate. The technology was also able to detect cancer in marginal regions between normal and cancer tissues that presented mixed cellular composition. The team expects to start testing this new technology during oncologic surgeries in 2018.
Although maximising cancer removal is critical to improve patient survival, removing too much healthy tissue can also have profound negative consequences for patients: For example, breast cancer patients could experience higher risk of painful side effects and nerve damage, in addition to aesthetic impacts. Thyroid cancer patients could lose speech ability or the ability to regulate the body’s calcium levels in ways that are important for muscle and nerve function.
The team and UT Austin have filed US patent applications for the technology and are now working to secure worldwide patents.