A study conducted by Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, successfully used a new tool to help brain surgeons test and more precisely remove cancerous tissue during surgery.

Designed by researchers at Purdue, the tool sprays a microscopic stream of charged solvent onto the tissue surface to gather information about its molecular makeup in just a few seconds, and produces a color-coded image that reveals the location, nature, and concentration of tumor cells. The instrumentation is relatively small and inexpensive and could easily be installed in operating rooms to aid neurosurgeons.

“Brain tumor tissue looks very similar to healthy brain tissue, and it is very difficult to determine where the tumor ends and the normal tissue begins,”saidR. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, who co-led the research. Current surgical methods rely on the surgeon’s trained eye with the help of an operating microscope and imaging from scans performed before surgery, he explained.

The mass spectrometry-based tool had previously been shown to accurately identify the cancer type, grade, and tumor margins of specimens removed during surgery based on an evaluation of the distribution and amounts of lipids within the tissue. This study added evaluating a biomarker for certain brain cancers.

The new tool relies an ambient mass spectrometry analysis technique developed by Cooks and his colleagues called desorption electrospray ionization (DESI), which eliminated the need for chemical manipulations of samples and containment in a vacuum chamber for ionization. DESI allows ionization to occur directly on surfaces outside of the mass spectrometers, making the process much simpler, faster, and more applicable to surgical settings.