Research ArticleCancer Diagnostics

Nondestructive tissue analysis for ex vivo and in vivo cancer diagnosis using a handheld mass spectrometry system

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Sep 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 406, eaan3968
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan3968

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Is the pen mightier than the scalpel?

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.