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  1. ITV Report

Scientists create 'pen' that can detect cancer in ten seconds

The MasSpec Pen allows surgeons to target cancerous cells more accurately. Credit: University of Texas

Scientists have developed a "pen" tool which can reportedly detect cancer by touch within 10 seconds and could revolutionise surgery for the disease.

The MasSpec Pen can recognise cancerous cells nearly 150 times faster than existing technology and has a more than 96% accuracy rate, say its developers at the University of Texas.

It could offer a breakthrough by allowing surgeons to see exactly which tissues are cancerous during an operation, meaning there is a better chance of removing "every last trace" of the disease.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, an assistant professor of chemistry who designed the study, said it could significantly the likelihood of cancer recurring.

If you talk to cancer patients after surgery, one of the first things many will say is 'I hope the surgeon got all the cancer out'.

It's just heartbreaking when that's not the case. > But our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery.

– Livia Schiavinato Eberlin

Not removing all of the cancerous tissues during surgery can cause tumours to re-grow.

But removing too much healthy tissue can cause pain, nerve damage and deformation. Thyroid cancer patients can also lose the ability to speak if too much tissue is taken out.

The pen works by releasing a tiny droplet of water onto the tissue, which soaks up chemicals inside the cells.

The water is then sucked back up and analysed by an instrument known as a mass spectrometer, which can detect thousands of molecules and identify compounds associated with cancer.

Doctors can see the result on a screen, meaning they can test tissue during surgery and much more accurately target the cancerous area.

The study on the MasSpec Pen has been published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

Its team hopes to start testing the new device during oncology surgeries next year.