A team of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin has developed a tool that accurately detects cancer in as little as ten seconds, 150 times faster than existing technology.
When doctors practice surgery to remove a tumor, one of the great difficulties they face is that of differentiating the cancerous tissue from the healthy one. In order to make this distinction, a technique called frozen section analysis is used, a method that is slow and sometimes inaccurate. To carry it out, the surgeon has to take a sample of tissue that has to be analyzed by a pathologist.
The whole process can take about 30 minutes, increasing the chances of the patient suffering an infection or the negative effects of anesthesia. In addition, in some types of cancer the interpretation can be very complicated, with unreliable results in 10 - 20% of the cases.
And is that although completely eliminate the cancerous tissue is essential to prevent recurrence and ensure the survival of the patient, removing too much healthy tissue can also have serious consequences. For example, in the case of breast cancer those affected could manifest painful side effects and nerve damage. Hence the importance of adequately differentiating the healthy tissue of the patient.
The new tool developed by these researchers solves these problems. It is called MasSpec Pen, has a pen shape and what it does is identify the metabolites of the cancer cells and other biomarkers, which are analyzed instantly using specialized software. To use it, all the surgeon has to do is place the end of the instrument on the tissue, and in less than ten seconds identifies whether it is healthy or cancerous.
In tests performed on tissues extracted from 253 patients with various cancers, MasSpec Pen was able to detect diseased tissue with 96% accuracy. In addition, it also identified cancer cells in the marginal regions between normal and diseased tissues that had a mixed cellular composition.
The team has already applied for patents for the device and hope to be able to start testing this technology in oncology surgeries for next year.