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Researchers report early success using saliva to detect oral cancer

Scientists funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, reported today taking a major step forward in using saliva to detect oral cancer. As published in the current issue of Clinical Cancer Research, the scientists found they could measure for elevated levels of four distinct cancer-associated molecules in saliva and distinguish with 91 percent accuracy between healthy people and those diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma.

This so-called "proof-of-principle" study marks the first report in the scientific literature that distinct patterns of "messenger RNA" not only are measurable in saliva but can indicate a developing tumor. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is the molecular intermediate between gene and protein, serving as a chemical record that an individual gene has been expressed.

According to David Wong, D.M.D., D.M.Sc., a scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry and senior author on the paper, it may be possible with further refinement of the test, possibly by including additional cancer-linked mRNAs, to attain the necessary 99 to 100 percent accuracy of commercial diagnostic tests for oral squamous cell carcinoma, the sixth most common cancer in the United States. Wong noted that currently no biochemical or genetic diagnostic tests are commercially available for oral cancer.

He also noted that the RNA patterns in saliva may be informative for other cancers and common diseases. "Saliva is a mirror of our blood," said Wong. "We're now conducting our initial studies of saliva as a possible diagnostic fluid for other human cancers and system diseases, and we should have our preliminary data in the Spring."

Wong said he and his colleagues never intended to study mRNA patterns in saliva. They had been searching exclusively in the mouth's soft tissues, or mucosa, for proteins that might be associated with oral cancer, when Maie S
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Contact: Bob Kuska
kuskar@nidcr.nih.gov
301-594-7560
NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
20-Dec-2004


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