By Divya Rajagopal
Conventional methods for tissue-diagnosis are both labour-intensive and time-consuming. They often delay decision-making during the precaution and curing procedures. The Livia S. Research Group has developed a device that can perform a mass spectrometry, the method that differentiates a cancer cell from normal ones, and can provide the results within 10 seconds. The device, called the MasSpec Pen, delivers a discrete water droplet to a tissue surface for efficient extraction of bio-molecules.
Motivation for the project
The scary stories of cancer are caused mainly due to the inefficiency and late reports of the diagnosis. The current techniques of cancer diagnosis involve imaging techniques like PET, CT, MRI, Ultrasounds, and the biopsy. The scans take forever to be developed, which are then reviewed by the radiologists. After this, the oncologists take another look and confirm the results. Another nuisance is the biopsy. It is a process by which the surgeons extract the tissues for examination, in order to remove the cancerous tissues. As expected, spotting the cancerous cells in between the healthy ones takes time and specialities.
MasSpecs: a pen in need
Experts from the University of Texas-Austin have invented a device that can do all of that in 10 seconds flat. The MasSpec Pen is an automated, biocompatible, handheld mass-spectrometry device that is used for the rapid and non-destructive diagnosis of cancer tissues. Results have shown that the MasSpec Pen can be used as a clinical and intra-operative tool for ex-vivo and in-vivo cancer diagnosis. In lab settings, using mice and human tissue samples, researchers were able to correctly identify lung, ovary, thyroid, and breast cancers with around 93% accuracy.
Construction of the device
The tip of this device is 3D-printed using surgery-ready plastic. This pen doesn’t pose a threat to healthy tissues, as it uses water instead of the high-voltage, pressurized gases, and the toxic solvents employed in standard mass spectrometry techniques. Combined with its small size, the device can effectively be used in live patients during surgery. The MasSpec Pen enables controlled and automated delivery of a discrete water droplet to a tissue surface for extraction of biomolecules, which is then delivered to the mass spectrometer for molecular analysis.
How does it work?
During the extraction surgeries, the tip of the MasSpec pen is placed on the tissues. A water droplet is then formed at the tip of the pen, which extracts small molecules from the patient’s tissue. The water, along with those molecules, is drawn into an instrument called the mass spectrometer (hence, the name “MasSpecs” ). A pedal is used to control the suction and the release of the water droplet. The system analyses the molecular composition for signs of cancer. Within seconds, the surgeons can know about which tissues to cut, and which to leave.
Faults at hand
Though the pen is small, it is only the device used for the intake mechanism. The spectrometer that the pen feeds is still just as big as the legacy models, and these often take up a lot of room in the operating arena. Moreover, the pen has yet to be tested in real-world settings, on human patients.
Thus, the MasSpecs Pen is a feasible diagnostic tool with 93% accuracy in results. Doctors can use the pen to ensure that every remnant of the offending tissue is removed before closing up the patient. Hence, it eliminates the need for sending more samples back to the lab in order to ensure if they had got it all. This greatly lowers the risk of a relapse.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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