A toothbrush to detect oral cancer

Washington: In a breakthrough, scientists
have developed a toothbrush-like instrument that could detect
oral cancer just in 15 minutes with a gentle touch.

A team of scientists led by researchers at the Rice
University have created a nano-bio-chip that was found to be
97 per cent "sensitive" and 93 per cent specific in detecting
which patients had malignant or premalignant lesions.

The minimally invasive technique would deliver results
in 15 minutes instead of several days, as lab-based
diagnostics do now, the researchers said.

"And instead of an invasive, painful biopsy, this new
procedure requires just a light brush of the lesion on the
cheek or tongue with an instrument that looks like a
toothbrush," they added.

"One of the key discoveries in this paper is to show
that the miniaturised, noninvasive approach produces about the
same result as the pathologists do," said lead researcher John

Oral cancer afflicts more than 300,000 people a year and
the five-year survival rate is 60 per cent, but if cancer is
detected early, that rate rises to 90 per cent, the journal
Cancer Prevention Research reported.

McDevitt and his team are working to create an
inexpensive chip that can differentiate premalignancies from
the 95 per cent of lesions that will not become cancerous.
"This area of diagnostics and testing has been terribly
challenging for the scientific and clinical community,"
McDevitt said, adding "Part of the problem is that there are
no good tools currently available that work in a reliable

He said patients with suspicious lesions, usually
discovered by dentists or oral surgeons, end up getting
scalpel or punch biopsies as often as every six months.

"People trained in this area don`t have any trouble
finding lesions. The issue is the next step -- taking a chunk
of someone`s cheek. The heart of this paper is developing a
more humane and less painful way to do that diagnosis, and our
technique has shown remarkable success in early trials,"
McDevitt said.