The MasSpec: A “Pen”That Would Diagnose Cancerous Tumors in Seconds

Initiation of treatment and consequently healing is heavily dependent on correct diagnosis. Failure to get the aforementioned right then in more cases than not death is inevitable. It is, therefore, welcoming news that researchers at the University of Texas, Austin have developed a hand held device that mimics a pen (MasSpec Pen) to rapidly aid in identifying cancerous tissues.

To clear the ambiguity involved in the word rapidly diagnose cancerous tissues, it’s being reported that the MasSpec Pen would deliver results in under 10 seconds by the Science Translational Medicine !

There is course for hope

The MasSpec Pen– the name of the diagnostic tool, named partly after the principle of mass spectrometry that the devices heavily adopts in identifying cancerous cells is being touted to be a disruptive technology in histopathological tissue diagnosis. It’s difficult to argue against these sentiments if you are to go by the capabilities of the hand held device as published in the science translational medicine.

University of Texas at Austin

In summary, the procedure of getting rid of cancerous tissue will be more precise, safe and faster under the scalpel than it is now with the current destructive tissues diagnostic test. With a reported overall accuracy of 96.3 percent, there is real cause for optimism in defeating cancers.

How the MasSpec works

To try to understand the entire process a short biochemistry lesson is inevitable. Promise to make it elementary to the best of my ability.  Cells whether diseases or healthy are characterized by the production of molecules. We call them metabolites. The specificity of this metabolites together with other biomolecules allows for the unique identification of the various forms of cancers.

University of Texas at Austin

Using droplets of water, the MasSpec Pen is able to collect the chemical information of the adjacent tissues and cell which is later retrieved by the handheld device for analysis in a mass spectrometer. The results obtained are then automatically analyzed using a statistical classifier. A software that matches the results against a databank of molecular finger print unique to the various known cancers. The final results being displayed as simply cancerous or normal.

What makes MasSpec Pen Unique?

As reported in the journal the major challenges as reported by surgeons is in the location of the border line between healthy cells and cancerous cells. It’s a difficult task even to the most experienced eyes to decipher. The consequence of failing to identify the border line is a potential risk of cancer relapse. The pen helps eliminate this uncertainty and ensures all cancerous tissues are dealt with by just a point of the pen.

Gentle on human tissues

The process couldn’t be gentler than it is. Only water and the plastic tip of the pen is involved. This is remarkable as compared to the available options in practice today. Biopsy, (extraction of a piece of tissue from the human body) which is invasive diagnostic tests and radiation images have the potential of tissue destruction.

Squamous cell carcinoma: The National Cancer Institute: Cancer Genome Atlas

What next after the invention?

Just like any other medical innovation, the MasSpec Pen will have to undergo vigorous safety and quality test before it is released to medical practitioners. Stating the obvious, the device is yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Nevertheless, the preliminary test on human tissues as well as non–human animal test has been encouraging. This has set the ground for the roll-out of clinic test slated for early 2018.

Only time will tell how the MasSpec Pen fares in a practical surgery setting. From where I stand, the hand held device definitely looks cheap since it’s a single use disposable product, the real cost of the procedure is attached to the mass spectrometer. The chief component that together with the statistical analyzer identifies the molecular finger prints of various cancers.

Lung Cancer X-ray:The National Cancer Institute: Cancer Genome Atlas

In the words of Dr. Andrew Weil, “If we can make the correct diagnosis, then healing can begin. If we can’t, both our personal health and our economy are doomed.” Fortunately for the human race, the MasSpec Pen fulfills a major clinic need ushering in a practical transition to precision medicine where confidence levels of treatment are greatly increased.