MasSpec Pen Technology

“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,” says James Suliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

“This technology does all three. It allows us to be much more precise in what tissue we remove and what we leave behind.”

The MasSpec Pen is currently for research only.

OVERVIEW


HOW IT WORKS


The MasSpec Pen is a handheld pen-like device that rapidly identifies the molecular profile of tissues using a small volume water droplet and mass spectrometry analysis. After 3 s of gentle physical contact with a tissue surface, the water droplet is transported to a mass spectrometer, which characterizes diagnostic proteins, lipids, and metabolites. Using machine learning algorithm, a diagnosis is provided with an associate probability of presence of cancer. The pen could be used to rapidly distinguish tumor from healthy tissue during surgery in mice, without requiring specific labeling or imaging and without evidence of tissue destruction.


TECHNICAL DETAILS


Conventional methods for histopathologic tissue diagnosis are labor- and time-intensive and can delay decision-making during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. The MasSpec Pen is an automated and biocompatible handheld mass spectrometry device for rapid and nondestructive diagnosis of human cancer tissues which enables controlled and automated delivery of a discrete water droplet to a tissue surface for efficient extraction of biomolecules. We used the MasSpec Pen for ex vivo molecular analysis of 20 human cancer thin tissue sections and 253 human patient tissue samples including normal and cancerous tissues from breast, lung, thyroid, and ovary. The mass spectra obtained presented rich molecular profiles characterized by a variety of potential cancer biomarkers identified as metabolites, lipids, and proteins. Statistical classifiers built from the histologically validated molecular database allowed cancer prediction with high sensitivity (96.4%), specificity (96.2%), and overall accuracy (96.3%), as well as prediction of benign and malignant thyroid tumors and different histologic subtypes of lung cancer. Notably, our classifier allowed accurate diagnosis of cancer in marginal tumor regions presenting mixed histologic composition. The MasSpec Pen is also demonstrated to be suited for in vivo cancer diagnosis during surgery performed in tumor-bearing mouse models, without causing any observable tissue harm or stress to the animal. These results provide evidence that the MasSpec Pen could potentially be used as a clinical and intraoperative technology for ex vivo and in vivo cancer diagnosis.

Learn About Our Research

PUBLICATION


Although a surgeon’s goal is to remove cancer in its entirety during excision surgery, achieving negative margins (absence of cancer cells at the outer edge of the excised tumor specimen) can be challenging. To facilitate intraoperative diagnosis, Zhang et al. developed a handheld pen-like device that rapidly identifies the molecular profile of tissues using a small volume water droplet and mass spectrometry analysis. After 3 s of gentle physical contact with a tissue surface, the water droplet is transported to a mass spectrometer, which characterizes diagnostic proteins, lipids, and metabolites. The pen could be used to rapidly distinguish tumor from healthy tissue during surgery in mice, without requiring specific labeling or imaging and without evidence of tissue destruction.

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