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Scientists invented a new pen-like tool that can detect cancer in just 10 seconds. Researchers at the University of Texas (UT) say their handheld device can identify cancerous tissue in record time, creating a potentially bold impact in the world of cancer research.

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.

According to CNBC, the new “MasSpec Pen” speeds up the testing process by 150 times and will even aid doctors when it comes to removing the tumor by pinpointing its exact location more accurately.

“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, an assistant professor of chemistry at UT Austin, who created the study and led the research team.

“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,” Eberlin added.

The study was conducted using 253 human cancer patients, and the average time taken to determine whether they had cancer was 10 seconds each. The tests were also shown to be accurate 96% of the time. Test subjects with breast, lung, thyroid and ovarian cancers were used in the study.

According to the research team, each type of cancer has its own molecular structure which acts kind of like a fingerprint, as it has its own unique identifier. The “MasSpec Pen” works by being placed onto suspect tissue, it releases a drop of water onto the area which absorbs molecules to be tested later on.

Image of cancer cells.
False color image of cancer cells.

The pen extracts the water containing the molecules and is then tested in a larger machine called a mass spectrometer, which analyzes the molecules and determines whether cancer exists. The machine will alert the doctor whether the patient is suffering with cancer by simply displaying the words “Normal” or “Cancer” on a display screen. The data gained from the molecular breakdown can also determine the type of cancer and sometimes pinpoint the name of a subtype of cancer evident.

“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, also part of the research team.

“This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind,” he added.

Scientists behind the technology have filed a US patent application and the pen is now awaiting full government approval so that it can be used in the healthcare industry across America, and further afield.

It takes bold ideas like this to push the healthcare industry forward and to ensure that the medical profession is able to fight diseases that so many of us battle on a daily basis.

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