Eventually, an oral cancer diagnosis may be a lick away


Instead of getting a lollipop for good behavior at a dental appointment, clinicians may hand them out and ask for patients to hand them back so they can be tested for mouth cancer, according to the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

The school will use a smart hydrogel to develop a prototype flavored lollipop that could aid in diagnosing mouth cancer. Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have awarded a three-year 350,000-pound grant ($442,347 U.S.) to fund the research, according to a university press release dated March 21.

"This project is an exciting first step towards an entirely new way to identify mouth cancers earlier," Dr. Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said in the press release.

Currently, a mouth cancer diagnosis requires biopsies and nasoendoscopies. However, the procedure is invasive, time-consuming, and requires an endoscopist. In addition to these factors, these tests are unpleasant for patients.

A hydrogel functions like fishing nets. It absorbs lots of water while catching larger molecules like proteins and the "net" can be opened, releasing larger molecules for analysis.

Therefore, to test for cancer, a patient would suck on a lollipop, transferring their saliva to the hydrogel. The proteins caught in the hydrogel lollipop can be blasted with a ultraviolet light, and the liquid can be analyzed for saliva proteins that are indicators of the early stages of mouth cancer, according to the release.

"We're hoping that we can be the first to make a device which is much kinder for diagnosing mouth cancer for patients," Dr.  Ruchi Gupta, associate professor of biosensors at the university, said in the press release.

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