With a grant of $2 million from the National Institute of Health in the United States, a team of scientists in England (led by Professor Martin Thornhill at the University of Sheffield) has developed a new quick, easy, and effective test for oral cancer that can identify its presence (or absence) in only 20 minutes. A two-year study is underway to track the results.
As with many cancers, early detection of oral cancer is key to a good prognosis: it can lead to a five-year survival rate of more than 90 percent. So the study is designed to perfect the procedure and make sure it provides results as accurate as those from earlier biopsies. Instead of requiring a scalpel to complete a biopsy and a considerable wait while the cells are sent to a pathologist (often at a hospital at another location) the new procedure employs a brush to painlessly remove the cells, places them on a nano-chip, and can analyze the results right in the dentist's office. An accurate diagnosis takes only about 10 minutes.
The crucial nano-chip was developed by Professor John McDevitt (at Rice University, in Houston) and makes the entire procedure both more efficient and less expensive than previous versions. Once the cells from the brush-biopsy are placed on the chip, and the chip is placed in an analyzer, microfluidic circuits wash the cells and make contact with “biomarkers” that react only to diseased cells. The machine uses two LEDS to identify the healthy and the diseased cells, and to distinguish them from one another by the unique way each glows in response to the LEDS.
Not only are the results of the new nano-chip technology promising, but they offer an excellent avenue for related procedures to detect and manage heart attacks, diabetes, and other diseases.We will be following the conclusions of this study with interest and will share them with our patients as soon as they are in.