$3.6M grant to study oral cancer saliva detection test

Woman Lab Microscope

The Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida has received a $3.6 million grant to evaluate an oral gargle test that could be used to screen for oropharyngeal cancer during routine dental checkups, according to a press release from the facility. 

The grant from the U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research will be used to advance the development of a noninvasive oral gargle biomarker panel, which uses a single saliva specimen, to detect early oropharyngeal cancer.

About 80% of oropharyngeal cancer cases, which develop at the base of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils, or wall of the throat, are caused by HPV infection type 16. Late-stage diagnoses often require intensive chemotherapy and radiation, making early detection critical.

Already, researchers have completed studies to show that the test can differentiate between early oropharyngeal cancer cases and controls and identify oral HPV 16 status, as well as 13 differentially methylated regions that map to genes.

Next, biorepositories of early oropharyngeal cancer cases and research from Moffitt and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh will be used to advance the clinical assay. The goal is to validate the oral biomarker panel among 100 early- and 100 late-stage pretreatment oropharyngeal cancer cases alongside 200 matched controls from Moffitt and UPMC, according to the release. 

Researchers surmise that biomarkers related to HPV and host epigenetic alterations may be used to distinguish between early cases of oropharyngeal cancer and those without cancer, which would facilitate earlier detection and treatment of tumors. 

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