Author: DrBicuspid Staff
Australian researchers have developed a quick, low-cost blood test to detect the early signs of oral cancer. The diagnostic test examines the profile of small molecules called microRNA in the blood and can be done at the same time as other routine checks, such as for cholesterol.
At present, no routine screening tests for oral cancer are on the market. The researchers hope that a simple blood test could change that and, in doing so, help stem the global increase of various oral cancers.
About 300,000 new cases of oral cancer were reported globally in 2012, according to the researchers. The main barriers to treatment remain late detection and low disease awareness. Warning symptoms include pain, swelling, a hoarse voice, and difficulty swallowing — symptoms that are often dismissed or misdiagnosed as a common cold.
The test, called miLIFE, was developed by researchers Nham Tran, PhD, and doctoral candidate Samantha Khoury from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) Centre for Health Technologies. The blood-based test can be administered by healthcare providers to screen microRNA to reveal the oral cancer’s early warning signs. The turnaround time for the test is about 48 hours at present.
The levels of five specific microRNA molecules are detected with miLIFE and compared with those of healthy, noncancerous individuals. An overabundance or expression of these specific microRNAs would designate people at high risk for oral cancer. These patients would then be referred to a specialist for further examination.
“You don’t need a specialist to administer the test,” Khoury noted. “When you visit your GP [general practitioner] for routine checks of cholesterol, vitamin D, hemoglobin, and so on, the same blood sample can be used to check for the presence of microRNA biomarkers.”
The majority of oral cancer patients who go to the doctor have already developed an advanced lesion, but by then it is too late, Tran stated.
“At this stage, their diagnosis option is to undergo a tumor biopsy or a fine-needle aspiration, both highly invasive and painful procedures,” he noted. “We hope that through miLIFE we can provide early intervention to decrease the number who are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.”
The test is being filed under a UTS provisional patent, and Tran hopes it will be available within two to three years.
The technology, in development since 2006, has evolved via an ongoing collection of consenting cancer patient samples from surgeons based at several Sydney hospitals. The researchers collaborated with the Sydney Head and Neck Cancer Institute, the Cancer Council Australia, and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Next the researchers plan to expand the project with the Vellore Christian Medical College Foundation in India. They targeted India because that country has the world’s highest rates of oral cancer, with 40,000 cases diagnosed annually.
“The introduction of a robust cancer screen will provide a platform for effective cancer management in low-resourced countries,” Tran noted.