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Painless Real-Time Proteomics Might Speed Up Cancer Surgery

Painless real-time proteomics might speed up cancer surgery, according to a study conducted on May 23, 2018.

This study was conducted by the researchers at the University of Lille. They worked for several years on a device called as SpiderMass, which will help surgeons in identifying markers of cancer in a living patient’s tissue during an operation. Once the tumor and some healthy surrounding tissue are removed, the pathologist checks the tissue margins under a microscope. Although this process is important for preventing relapse of the cancer, even more time under anesthesia might be harmful for the patient.

However, according to the researchers, the new device will be able to open the way to in vivo real-time proteomics, which could help surgeons find stray cancer cells faster. The new device uses mass spectrometry, which measures the mass of molecules from complex mixtures. However, turning an in vivo tissue sample into gas phase ions for measurements can be a challenge.

Therefore, they used MALDI, an ionization strategy that uses a carrier molecule mixed with the analytes of interest. They decided to use the water that makes up a majority of human tissue as a carrier to produce a water-assisted laser desorption/ionization, or WALDI. If they could excite the water in a tiny area, it should vaporize, taking ionized organic molecules with it.

A pulsed laser excitation device tuned to heat water precisely by causing vibration in the oxygen-hydrogen bond was developed by the researchers. By using a more sensitive mass spectrometer and looking for positively instead of negatively charged ions, they found peaks representing purified proteins they had introduced into a cow liver sample. Furthermore, they developed a lipidomics- and metabolomics-based classification system, which can robustly identify healthy, necrotic, and cancerous tissues.