The MasSpec Pen has been awarded the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award in the Health, Med and Biotech category. The MasSpec Pen is a handheld device that allows surgeons to identify cancerous tissue in seconds.
The pen is used during surgery to determine the boundary between cancerous tissue and normal tissue. The surgeon gently touches the tip of the pen to tissue during surgery. At the end of the pen, a tiny drop of water is exposed to the tissue. Healthy cells and each type of cancer cell produce specific metabolites.
The water droplet captures metabolites and they are drawn up through the pen to a mass spectrometer where they are analyzed. This takes about 10 seconds.
Currently the method of determining the boundary between healthy and cancerous cells is pathologic evaluation and can take up to 30 minutes. The process is also subjective and yields unreliable results in 10 to 20 percent of the cases. In tests on human cancer cells, the MasSpec Pen was accurate in 96 percent of the cases.
The pen was developed at the University of Texas at Austin. Assistant professor of chemistry, Livia S. Eberlin lead the team that developed the pen.
Eberlin and her team are preparing to test the device at Dell Medical School, MD Anderson and Baylor College of Medicine.