A new tool from innovators at the University of Texas at Austin could present significant strides in cancer treatment and the associated palliative care. The device, call the MasSpec Pen, can help surgeons identify cancerous tissue in as little as 10 seconds.
With this precision device, surgeons get speedy results, and patients have more assurance that a procedure can succeed in removing all of the cancer. Plus, the time improvements - results 150 times faster than existing technology - can reduce anesthesia side effects and infection risk.
"Any time we can offer the patient a more precise surgery, a quicker surgery or a safer surgery, that's something we want to do," James Suliburk, study collaborator and Baylor College of Medicine endocrine surgery head, said.
The MasSpec Pen provides all three benefits at once. So how does it stack up to the current method?
Pitfalls with frozen section analysis
The status quo for tissue testing during cancer surgery is frozen section analysis. While useful, the process has two key issues.
First, identification can take as long as a half hour. This waiting period opens the door for the aforementioned infection and anesthesia side effect risks.
With the MasSpec Pen, which evaluates target areas based on a database derived from 253 human tissue samples, the surgeons can hold the device against the tissue. After they press the foot pedal, the pen delivers a result in a few seconds, saying "normal" or "cancer" on a screen. For certain cancer subtypes, the categorization appears, too.
The other issue with FSA is accuracy. One 2017 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found FSA is effective for management and diagnosis of central nervous system lesions only 77.9 percent of the time. The 389-patient study cited sampling error as a result of the interoperative testing.
The UT researchers claimed the MasSpec Pen's accuracy exceeds 96 percent. This level of effectiveness could grant patients more peace of mind that the surgery is comprehensive and that the cancer is less likely to return.
Comfort and safety for patients
When researchers tested the device on live tumor-bearing mice, they didn't note any visible stress or discomfort. Not only does the MasSpec Pen leave the tissue intact, but it also requires only the plastic pen tip and water touch the target area.
If this innovation makes it to clinical settings, it could prove particularly useful for challenging surgeries like craniotomies. With more precision and speed, surgeons can get patients to happier, healthier lives with less risk.