UT researchers "Cancer Pen" could remove cancerous cells more effectively

It's the first question many cancer patients have when waking up from surgery, ‘Did you get it all?’ Some University of Texas researchers are hoping to help doctors give a better answer to that question with new technology they have invented.

"The reality is there are not a lot tools that help them do that." Livia Eberlin is an Assistant Professor in Chemistry at UT and the lead scientist on the MasSpec or cancer pen project, “If there's anything left behind, there's a high chance that it's going to become another cancer that you have to have another surgery."

Not only is the MasSpec pen quicker, Professor Tom Milner who helped with the design said it's less invasive, “The conventional technique is to actually cut out the tissue and do what's called histological analysis of that tissue, it takes a long time, and requires people of very high skill. This device potentially can give a good read in a very short amount of time, without destroying the tissue."

The single-use pen connects to a device that analyzes the composition of molecules.

Surgeons hold it against a patient's tissue where it quickly releases and recaptures a tiny drop of water. The droplet goes into the device analyzing the molecules to see if they are normal or cancerous.

When it's done, the words "Normal" or "Cancer" appear on a computer screen. 

In tests on more than 250 cancer patients the pens' accuracy was at more than 96%.

“The main goal always is how can we help patients. How can we extend people’s lives and how can we provide better quality of life for cancer patients? So as long as we are accomplishing that, it's very successful and a happy end for us," Eberlin said.

The team said they hope to start testing it in surgical procedures in early 2018.