Scientists to check fast new test for oral cancer

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A CUTTING-edge brush which can remove cells from the mouth to diagnose oral cancer in less than 20 minutes is being trialled by scientists in Sheffield.

The “lab on a chip” trial, led in Sheffield by Professor Martin Thornhill, is working with researchers from Rice University in the United States to develop a device that could be used by a dentist to diagnose oral cancer far more quickly than the standard biopsy procedure.

Currently oral cancer is detected by using a scalpel to perform a biopsy and then testing the sample off-site in a laboratory.

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

If the trial, which currently involves 275 patients, proves successful then the brush could become standard procedure at dentist surgeries in the future.

Prof Thornhill, who is professor of oral medicine at Sheffield University, 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 painlessly to remove a few cells and a result could be produced in minutes.”

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