A handheld device that looks like a pen can identify cancerous tissue within 10 seconds, according to scientists at the University of Texas.
Claiming it would make surgery more precise, the scientists are of opinion that the removal of tumour would be far quicker and safer.
They hoped it would avoid the “heartbreak” of leaving any of the cancer behind.
Science Translational Medicine published tests which suggested the technology is accurate 96% of the time.
The MasSpec Pen takes advantage of the unique metabolism of cancer cells.
How it works
The pen releases a tiny droplet of water after touching on to a suspected cancer tissue.
After releasing a droplet, chemicals inside the living cell move into it, which is then sucked back up the pen for analysis.
The pen is plugged into a mass spectrometer – a piece of kit that can measure the mass of thousands of chemicals every second.
It produces a chemical fingerprint that tells doctors whether they are looking at healthy tissue or cancer.
However, the challenge faced by surgeons is finding the border between the cancer and normal tissue.
In some tumours it is obvious, but in others the boundary between healthy and diseased tissue can be blurred.
It is worth mentioning here that the technology has been tested on 253 samples as part of the study. The plan is to continue testing to refine the device before trialing it during operations next year.
Currently the pen analyses a patch of tissue 1.5mm across but researchers have developed even more refined pens that should be able to look at a patch of tissue 0.6mm across.
While the pen itself is cheap, the mass spectrometer is expensive.