Identifying the exact location and size of a tumor poses one of the biggest challenges for cancer surgeons. A reduction in tissue number too great can affect normal functions, but one that is too small could lead to disease recurrence. It is expected that surgeons will be able to distinguish between cancerous and healthy tissue with greater certainty in the operating room using the “MasSpec Pen,” a handheld device in development. Using this technology in human surgery for the first time, researchers presented first results today. A report on the researchers’ work will be presented at the Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It has been established through extensive clinical data that highly effective surgeries are those that remove the most cancer, while preserving as much normal tissue as possible,” explains principal investigator Livia Eberlin. MasSpec Pen was created because we thought it would be incredible to be able to analyze a living tissue in the operating room to speed up Anatomy and pathology. A sample is taken from a patient during surgery and taken to the lab using this technique. A frozen sample is stained and examined under a microscope after being sectioned, frozen, and sectioned again. This procedure can take an average of 30 minutes to complete. While the surgery is being performed, the patient is still under anesthesia and the surgeon is Eberlin notes that while histopathology has been found to be effective in many surgeries, specifically cancer surgeries, the process is subject to subjective interpretation due to artifacts from the freezing process.

As a solution to these challenges, Eberlin and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin developed the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device constructed of advanced materials and Through a simple process of putting a small droplet of water on the tissue surface for about three seconds and analyzing the chemistry of the water, the device is able to identify the molecular profile of tissue exposed during surgery. As soon as the droplet is captured by the mass spectrometer, it is analyzed for molecules within the tissue. Last but not least, machine learning algorithms compile molecular information and provide a prediction of a surgical outcome. Eberlin explained that he developed the MasSpec Pen so that a surgeon only needs to touch the tissue to activate the system and trigger it with a foot pedal.

 As well as freshly excised patient tissue, a series of promising results are being inferred from analysis of recently extracted samples. Eberlin says the team is continuing its research and development of the technology in my lab as it seeks to improve its performance across different cancer types. Our research also includes new applications in surgical procedures such as minimally invasive surgeries, as well as applications outside of the operating room in forensics and agriculture.”