Surgical devices make many stops in their progress from conception to clearance to commercialization, but it’s rare the path runs through Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.
A handheld device meant to help surgeons quickly analyze tissue samples for the presence of cancerous cells had its star turn on a recent episode of the hit ABC series Grey’s Anatomy. The MassSpec Pen was submitted by one of the characters for a surgical innovation contest taking place within the show’s fictional healthcare facility.
Well away from the soapy drama of Dr. Meredith Grey and her colleagues, the MassSpec pen was developed at the University of Texas.
“The idea of the MassSpec Pen really started from the clinical need,” Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, Phd, assistant professor in the UT department of chemistry, told KVUE-TV. “There’s this critical issue in surgery which is establishing the margin, so how much of the tumor really needs to be removed? And how much is left in the patient?”
The MassSpec Pen uses a small amount of water to pulls molecules from tissue, then uses a connected flexible tube to transfer the sample to a mass spectrometer. A recent study centered on the device found it could provide results within mere seconds and identified cancers with 96.4 percent sensitivity, 96.2 percent specificity, and 96.3 percent accuracy. Since it uses water to extract the sample, healthy tissue in the patient is left undamaged, according to researchers.
The team at UT is currently seeking manufacturing partners to help them continue the development process. The hope is that the added exposure provided by the device’s appearance on Grey’s Anatomy will provide a boost in awareness that can help researchers put the MassSpec Pen in the hands of surgeons.
“The attention also brings an even stronger sense of responsibility and urgency to further refine, test, and validate the technology for clinical use,” Eberlin told The Daily Texan.
On Grey’s Anatomy, the MassSpec Pen is called the Path Path, and it was introduced into the innovations contest by Dr. Richard Webber, played by James Pickens, Jr. As of right now, the Path Pen is still in the running for the contest’s $100,000 prize. Stay tuned.
Main image credit: screen grab from uTexasCNS video/YouTube