Researchers: New device detects cancer within seconds

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin are touting new technology that they say can detect cancer within seconds.

The device was presented at South by Southwest's interactive festival over the weekend. Medical experts are calling it “groundbreaking.”

"There's definitely a lot of hope,” said research assistant Marta Sans.

Imagine if you could detect cancer within seconds. It may sound out of reach, but a group of researchers say not quite.

"The MasSpec Pen is a handheld device coupled to a mass spectrometer that can diagnose cancer during surgery in 20 seconds,” Sans said.

The MasSpec Pen uses touch for diagnosis. With the push of a pedal, it releases water droplets to extract molecules from tissue, which the device then analyzes.

"We can create a molecular fingerprint that can say, 'Oh, this is cancer' or 'This is normal,'” Sans said.

For doctors, the technology is groundbreaking. Determining normal tissue from cancerous tissue is often difficult and waiting for results from pathologists can be time consuming -- all of which can cause complications.

"If you don't get all the cancer out, does that leave a place, a sanctuary, if you would, where tumor cells can stay and come back or even migrate to other parts of the body?" said Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld.

And just because the cancer pen is fast, doesn't mean it's not accurate.

Researchers say after analyzing 300 patient samples, they were able to diagnose four types of cancer - ovarian, thyroid, lung and breast cancer -- with over 96 percent accuracy.

Still, medical experts are cautiously optimistic.

"We have to remember that it's a long way from concept to proving that it really works, to getting it used by doctors in real life.  And we don't know the answer to that yet, and, clearly, the researchers understand that they have more work to do,” Lichtenfeld said.

The pen will soon be tested in surgery rooms.

The FDA still has to approve the technology as well.