A team of researchers at Austin University has announced the creation of a sensor, in shape of a pen, that can detect molecules for spectroscopy analyses leading to the detection of cancerous cells.
The pen is 3D printed and is used by a doctor to touch a tissue, both in vivo or a sample taken through biopsy. The tip of the pen eject a water drop and then re-absorb it along with micro tissue samples that have been embedded in the droplet. This solution is analysed by a mass spectrometry system to detect the presence of cancerous cells. The whole process, and this is the big “plus”, takes just 10 seconds versus the days, and sometimes weeks, needed today for tissue analyses.
The team is presenting the results in an article published on Science Translational Magazine.
The device, called MasSpec Pen, allows the controlled ejection of a water droplet for the efficient extraction of biomolecules. It can be used during surgery to detect the presence of cancerous cells in “real time”. So far it has been tested for lung, ovary, breast and thyroid cancer and researchers are working to extend it to the detection of other types of cancer.
The pen is “small” but the equipment performing the spectrometry analyses is bulky and requires a dedicated space and skilled technicians to operate. Hence the whole procedure has to take place in an hospital. Also, notice that the “pen” is not a sensor picking up data that being bits could be sent wirelessly anywhere. It picks up biomolecules, atoms that need to be taken physically to the spectrometry equipment. In spite of all these limitations it represents a huge step forward in cancer screening. So far it is still in the research-experimentation phase, it has been tested on over 250 human tissues samples showing an accuracy over 95%, which is pretty good when dealing with “bio”.
The goal now is to bring it into clinical practice.