At the 2018 annual SXSW Conference (held in Austin, TX), a team from the University of Texas at Austin, led by assistant professor Livia S. Eberlin, was awarded the honor of the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award for the category of Health, Med, and Biotech for their MasSpec Pen device. Competitors included in city and out of state participants from Georgia, Virginia, and California.
The MasSpec Pen is a device that is “handheld” like a pen by a surgeon that touches a droplet of water at the tip of the device to human tissue in order to have the water droplet capture and extract metabolites. Metabolites are a byproduct and intermediate production of a metabolism, each type of cancer has its corresponding type of metabolite. The MasSpec Pen captures these metabolites and sends them up to a mass spectrometer to determine whether the tissue is cancerous. The entire process is 10 seconds long and the accuracy of the diagnostic is 96%.
The commonly used method for diagnostics of tissue for cancer is a pathologic evaluation. The test is unreliable in up to one fifth of the cases of analysis and the process takes up to half an hour to complete for a result. The new device provides for an improvement that far outperforms the current common method of analysis.
The MasSpec Pen could provide a more precise way of surgically removing cancerous tissues and decreasing the likelihood that the cancer would resurge by leaving cancerous tissues in the body. Furthermore, it could make cancer surgery a faster process decreasing the likelihood of a cancer patient getting an infection or having a negative reaction to anesthesia. The MasSpec Pen is set to face clinical trial testing at the Dell Medical at University of Texas at Austin, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and at the Baylor College of Medicine, all in Texas.