New ‘rapid’ test diagnoses oral cancer

A clinical trial is developing a revolutionary technique to diagnose oral cancer quickly and effectively.

The ‘lab on a chip’ trial, led by Professor Martin Thornhill from the University of Sheffield, is working with researchers from Rice University in the US to develop a device that could be used by a dentist to determine if a patient has oral cancer or other abnormalities in less than 20 minutes.

A group of 275 patients have taken part in the trial over the past 18 months, helping Sheffield to recruit more patients into oral and dental research than any other research centre in the country this year.

The current procedure used to detect oral cancer in suspicious lesions involves using a scalpel to perform a biopsy and off-site laboratory tests that can be time-consuming.

The new test will involve removing cells with a brush, placing them on a chip, and inserting the chip into an analyser – with a result in a matter of minutes.

Martin Thornhill, professor of oral medicine at the University of Sheffield and honorary Consultant in Oral Medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: ‘This new technology is an exciting development in the search for quicker and more effective diagnosis of oral cancer.

‘The current procedure we have for making a diagnosis – taking a biopsy – can take a week or more to produce results and can involve extra visits from patients. With our new technology, a brush can be used to remove a few cells painlessly and a result could be produced in minutes.

‘We’re delighted that so many patients have been willing to take part in this trial. The trial is the main reason we now rank top of the country for recruits to oral and dental studies, and this indicates how successful it has been. Patients are willing to take part in this study because they see the real potential it has in improving patient care in the future.’

The study is to finish later this year, after which results will be published.        

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