Investigators: Richard Roberts, Ph.D.; Uttam Sinha, M.D.
Innovation: develop high-affinity peptides for targeted diagnosis and a pipeline for generating other reagents
Clinical significance: a robust, simple diagnostic test for early detection of head and neck cancers
Head and neck cancers account for approximately 350,000 deaths worldwide each year. Risk factors include drinking, tobacco use and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections in the mouth. Early detection is essential for improving outcomes, as two-thirds of patients present with advanced disease, but visual inspection is currently the only screening method. Even successful treatments can carry signi cant side e ects.
To improve patient outcomes, the team developed nanodiagnostics for early detection. Their technique builds upon the messenger RNA (mRNA) display technique developed by Richard Roberts to create nanoparticles and Uttam Sinha’s identi cation of six cytokines that are elevated in patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.
The results could enable physicians to take a sample of a patient’s saliva and detect tiny molecules shed by cancer at a very early stage. The use of these saliva biomarkers unlocks the potential of identifying patients with premalignant lesions. While useful against all head and neck tumors, the method could prove especially valuable in treating those caused by HPV, as such malignancies are easier to cure than other cancers if caught in time.