Mass-Spectrometry is pretty much magic. A tiny sample of matter can be analyzed to get a chemical fingerprint which reveals exactly what it is.
Today, mass-spectrometry requires a large and expensive machine, and generally requires a fairly large sample which is destroyed by the process, which takes 30 minutes or more to complete. This is fine for laboratory studies, but impractical for many medical applications.
This fall a group from University of Texas report on a new device intended for use in course of cancer surgery . The device is a pen-sized sampler that is touched to the tissue around a removed tumor. It samples the chemistry of the tissue without damaging it, feeds the sample to a mass-spectrogram machine, and quickly screens the results to determine if the tissue is cancerous (and so should be removed). The algorithm is highly accurate, enabling a surgeon to find the edges of what must be removed.
The quick turn around and spatially precise sample are essential for use during surgery. The technique picks up metabolites from the tissue without destroying it, which is a great improvement over previous methods.
As Emily Waltz points out, this technique still requires a mass-spectrogram machind, which is impractical for most operating rooms. However, there are new developments that will make smaller and cheaper mass-spectrogrametry possible . And, of course, machine learning can be used to create many different fast classifier algorithms.
Combining these developments, as well as other non-invasive sensing will lead to some pretty amazing medical tech.
Aside: Please note the careful experiments and detailed open report of their validation studies in . Compare to the usual Silicon Valley hype-intensive, data-light technology.
- Dexter Johnson, Mass Spectrometry Gets a New Power Source and a New Life, in IEEE Specturm – Nanoclast. 2017. https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/mass-spectrometry-gets-a-new-power-souce-and-a-new-life
- Emily Waltz, Handheld Mass-Spectrometry Pen Identifies Cancer in Seconds During Surgery, in IEEE Spectrum – The Human OS. 2017. https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/handheld-mass-spectrometry-pen-identifies-cancer-in-seconds-during-surgery
- Jialing Zhang, John Rector, John Q. Lin, Jonathan H. Young, Marta Sans, Nitesh Katta, Noah Giese, Wendong Yu, Chandandeep Nagi, James Suliburk, Jinsong Liu, Alena Bensussan, Rachel J. DeHoog, Kyana Y. Garza, Benjamin Ludolph, Anna G. Sorace, Anum Syed, Aydin Zahedivash, Thomas E. Milner, and Livia S. Eberlin, Nondestructive tissue analysis for ex vivo and in vivo cancer diagnosis using a handheld mass spectrometry system. Science Translational Medicine, 9 (406) 2017. http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/9/406/eaan3968.abstract