Handheld device diagnoses cancer in seconds in lab tests

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A team of US researchers has developed a way of spotting cancer within seconds in laboratory experiments.

TEXAS (REUTERS) - A new device could be about to revolutionise the way we detect cancer during surgery.

The MassSpec Pen will give surgeons almost instant results on what to cut out and what to leave.

"A MassSpec Pen is a non-destructive handheld device which can be used to do real-time diagnosis of human tissue to help the doctor to do margin analysis," research associate at the University of Texas at Austin Jialing Zhang said.

Developed at the University of Texas at Austin, the system uses a drop of water to capture the molecules that all tissue gives off.

Called metabolites, they form a set of biomarkers unique to each type of cancer.

The molecular fingerprint is then examined in a mass spectrometer and compared with more than 250 different cancerous and healthy tissue types.

"We have some tubing that delivers a control water droplet to the tip of the pen, and then this water is used to extract lipids, metabolites and proteins from the tissue sample. Those lipids can be characteristic of the tissue type, so if you have cancer, you know you're going to get a different composition. And then this water droplet is delivered into the mass spectrometer with the different tubing that we have, and then this information can be analysed," research assistant at the University of Texas at Austin Marta Sans Escofet said.

A surgeon simply holds the disposable pen against tissue they want to test and 10 seconds later, the results are ready.

"So what we have now can take anywhere between 30 minutes and two weeks, and with the MassSpec Pen, we can get information in about 10 seconds, so it's quite an improvement," said Escofet.

The team has filed US patent applications for the technology and is working to secure worldwide patents.

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