Medical science often resembles science fiction, especially when new gadgets and technology aids are invented. Engineers at the University of Texas-Austin have come up with the most recent advance, a "pen" that uses mass spectrometry to detect cancer cells, in real time. Dubbed the "MassSpec" pen, just touching it to tissue can tell if the tissue is cancerous. It has tremendous promise in surgery where physicians need to know how much tissue to remove to get all of the cancer, but not too much of the surrounding healthy tissue.
It works by depositing a tiny drop of water onto tissues exposed during surgery. This water absorbs and extracts molecules from the area being tested and funnels them to an attached mass spectrometry device. Mass spec is commonly used in many labs for dozens of different applications; however, its use in surgery is groundbreaking. In seconds after the molecules are brought up from the patient's tissue, the surgeon knows which tissues are cancerous which are healthy. Knowing how much to cut and which parts to leave is crucial for better outcomes for cancer patients. While it's wise to be conservative and not remove too much material around a tumor, the goal in any cancer surgery is to "Get it all, " and this new device could be a key advance in making that happen