New Tool on Horizon for Surgeons Treating Cancer Patients*

Progress can never come soon enough for cancer patients. Or their doctors.

But it does come. Every day.

Here’s a report I came across in a wireless technology newsletter I receive. Funny thing: One never knows where one will read about cancer progress.

Who cares, as long as progress progresses.

Surgeons could know while their patients are still on the operating table if a tissue is cancerous, according to researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge
National Laboratory and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

In the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, a team led by ORNL’s Vilmos
Kertesz describes an automated droplet-based surface sampling probe that
accomplishes in about 10 minutes what now routinely takes 20 to 30 minutes.

Kertesz expects that time to be cut to four to five minutes soon. For this proof-of concept demonstration, researchers rapidly profiled two hormones from human pituitary tissue.

Close-up of new tool in action

“Instead of having to cut and mount tissue and wait for a trained pathologist to
review the sample under a microscope, a technician might soon perform an equally conclusive test in the operating environment,” Kertesz said.

The new mass spectrometry-based technology provides an attractive alternative to
the traditional method called immunohistochemistry, or IHC, which looks for specific protein biomarkers to make a diagnosis. Although the IHC approach provides a high degree of spatial recognition, it is time consuming and limited by the quality and specificity of the antibody used to detect the protein.

ORNL researchers trace this success to patents resulting from previously funded
DOE projects and noted that this work advances the liquid microjunction surface
sampling probe technology first patented by ORNL. Additionally, ORNL houses the
only laboratories in the world that have this automated droplet-based surface
sampling probe and the requisite software.

While yet other mass spectrometry-based techniques such as desorption
electrospray ionization and rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry are
being evaluated for classifying tumors and providing prognostic information, they
are limited mainly to the analysis of lower molecular weight biomolecules. These
include metabolites, fatty acids and lipids. The new droplet-based method
developed at ORNL does not share this limitation.

“The ability to quickly characterize the tissue distribution of larger macromolecular
biomarkers like peptides and proteins would harness the diagnostic value of
validated immunohistochemistry approaches for surgical decision-making,” Kertesz
said. He noted that this system has been successfully used for spatially resolved
sampling and detection of drugs and metabolites from thin sections of animal tissue
and proteins from dried blood.

“On the basis of the results and the relative simplicity, rapidity and specificity of our
method, there is great potential for our technology to assist surgeons in the
detection of cancer from tissue biopsy samples,” said Kertesz, a member of ORNL’s
Organic and Biological Mass Spectrometry Group and lead author of the paper. Gary Van Berkel of ORNL is a co-author.

*Published on Wireless Design & Development

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