Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) in the US have invented a new diagnostic kit that allows for the early detection of oral cancer through a simple brush biopsy.

The kit, created by Guy Adami and Dr Joel Schwartz of the UIC College of Dentistry, utilises a small brush for collecting cells from the mouth’s potentially cancerous lesions.

The collected sample is then analysed for genetic markers indicative of oral squamous cell carcinoma, which is said to be the ninth most prevalent cancer worldwide.

According to UIC, the test’s accuracy stems from its ability to detect a signature of 40 microRNA sequences, which can differentiate between a tumour and normal tissue with more than 90% accuracy.

Results from the test could be returned to the clinic in days with the diagnostic test’s current version.

Adami said: “We were the first to observe that brush biopsy samples actually work quite well when you use microRNA. All you need is a good light and the brushes.”

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Arphion Diagnostics, the company formed by Adami and Schwartz to commercialise the test, is actively seeking business partners to help introduce the product into dental clinics.

The brush method only collects cells from one site where treatment can be focused on detecting a malignancy, unlike blood tests that study for genetic cancer signals.

The potential for this technology extends beyond oral cancer, as it may also be used to diagnose other oral diseases through their unique microRNA signatures.

Schwartz said: “There are 600 different diseases that occur in the mouth, and a number of these have already been characterised with microRNAs.

“We could use the same approach and really have a profound impact on these kinds of disease.”

The project has received support from the National Science Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.