MasSpec Pen
When the pen is mightier than the scalpel

In September 2017, the science behind the MasSpec Pen was published in a renowned medical journal. With good reason, the story quickly caught the attention of the world. It landed features in BBC, Time, CNN and even made a flashy TV debut on drama series Grey's Anatomy.

While many thought it was too good to be true, the MasSpec Pen delivers on its promise. It detects cancerous tissue in just 10 seconds.

Currently, the process for checking surrounding tissue in the margins of a tumour is a somewhat lengthy one. It takes over 30 minutes to be completed, which leaves patients exposed to infections and extended anaesthesia. On top of that, these examinations can only be performed on already removed tissue and are frequently inaccurate.

This whole process is critical to guarantee complete tumour removal and can’t be spared. But, it can be optimised. That's why a team from the University of Texas developed the MasSpec Pen, which through quick cancer recognition decreases multiple risks associated with tumour surgery.

When held near tissue, the pen releases a small water droplet on the tissue surface, which is transported to a mass spectrometer for analysis. Shortly after, the surgeon will know whether they're dealing with bad or healthy tissue. Enabling the surgeon to perform this accurate, rapid cancer detection before actual removal of tissue can revolutionise cancer treatment. As it can be easily incorporated into the surgical workflow, it significantly cuts down costs by expediting surgeries and reduces needs for secondary surgery.

To date, the MasSpec Pen has been lab-tested with over 700 human tissue samples, spanning many cancer types such as breast, ovarian, lung, pancreatic and brain. Building on its remarkable performance for cancer diagnosis, the team recently tool the technology into the operating room. Now, they’re testing its real-life feasibility before the next phases of getting the tool approved and implemented.

Designers: University of Texas - USA
UN SDGs: Good health & well-being

Maspec Pen from The Index Project on Vimeo. Music: Lee Rosevere