A biosensor for oral cancer has been developed by researchers from the University of Florida and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. The device uses a rapid transistor-based system and is much faster and more convenient than current lab-based tests.

Their study was published In Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B.

“Oral squamous cell carcinomas are one of the most common lip and oral cavity cancer types,” said Minghan Xian, co-author and a researcher at the University of Florida. “It requires early detection via various medical technologies to improve the survival rate.”

Oral cancers are the 16th most common type of cancer. Cancers of the lip and oral cavity are the most common, with more than 377,700 cases worldwide in 2020, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. Since oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) occurs in one of the most accessible sites in the body, it can be easily treated if detected promptly. Oral cancers that remain localized and are 2 centimeters or smaller can be cured — five-year survival rates exceed 90%.

 “The standard of care for oral cancer detection is a biopsy, which is invasive, expensive and takes several weeks to obtain results. Since our sensor is a true point of care, we envision this technology to offer chairside assistance to dentists on whether or not a biopsy is warranted,” Co-author Josephine Esquivel-Upshaw, professor at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, told Inside Precision Medicine.

Biosensors have long been heralded as a key to rapid, convenient, and accurate cancer detection. Xian told Inside Precision Medicine that “We have previously applied similar technology to diseases such as COVID-19, cerebrospinal fluid leak, and Zika virus. We believe that our approach can be applied to various cancer types to allow rapid detection.”

He added that, “This in vitro test also demonstrates that our sensor is capable of detecting this biomarker in very low concentrations, within seconds. The sensitivity of our portable sensor is even higher than the test being done in a laboratory.”

This device comprises a sensor, similar to a glucose strip, and a circuit board (a hand-held terminal like a glucometer) for detection. It uses a transistor-based technology for testing the biomarker CIP2A — highly expressed in OSCC cell lines and dysplastic and malignant human oral epithelial tissues, but not in normal controls. This protein binds to and inhibits PP2A, a tumor suppressor. PP2A inhibition leads to increased cell proliferation.

Present in most cancers, including lung and gastric cancer, CIP2A is more pronounced in oral cancer. Enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) test kits to detect this protein are widely available.

For this type of sensor, “Typically, test fluid is introduced into a small liquid channel on the tip of the sensor strips,” said Xian. “A few electrodes sit within the liquid channel, and the surface of these electrodes contain antibodies to specific proteins present within human oral cancer lesions. Short electrode pulses get sent through these electrodes during detection, and then the circuit board module analyzes this signal and outputs a four-digit number that correlates to its concentration.”

“The next step in this continuum is to conduct the analysis using in vivo samples of CIP2A – a biomarker of OSCC – in oral cancer and non-oral cancer patients with biopsy as a gold standard,” said Xian.


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