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UC researcher receives grant to study cancer-detecting mouthwash

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) are investigating whether certain molecular markers that can be collected from simple mouthwash samples can help in identifying throat and mouth cancers.

Scott Langevin, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health and a member of both the Cincinnati Cancer Center (CCC) and UC Cancer Institute, was recently awarded $782,000 from the American Cancer Society to continue his research which will hopefully assist in use of a certain oral rinse to catch recurrence of these types of cancers in their earliest stages.

He originally received a National Cancer Institute K22 award to begin this study.

"In 2017, mouth and throat cancer, otherwise known as oral and pharyngeal cancer, accounted for an estimated 49,670 new cancer diagnoses and 9,700 cancer-related deaths in the U.S., and the outcomes for patients with this cancer is relatively poor. About half of these patients will have cancer recurrence within two years of treatment,” Langevin says. "Earlier detection of recurrent tumors is associated with better clinical outcomes, so there is a clear need for new tests that can help facilitate early detection.”

Langevin says that researchers in his lab previously identified a biomarker panel made up of 22 regions of DNA; based on the amount of a certain molecule attached to these regions—a process called DNA methylation—scientists could identify the presence of mouth and throat cancer with a high level of accuracy by using non-invasive oral rinse (mouthwash) samples.

"With this project, we hope to evaluate the potential of this oral rinse methylation panel as a clinical tool for early detection of cancer recurrence following diagnosis and treatment,” he says. "This will hopefully help us develop a new test that can reduce the impact of these cancers.”

Langevin adds that his team will take a deep look into methylation within the tumors themselves to enhance understanding of the prevalence and extent of these alterations in mouth and throat cancers.

"Facilitated by my clinical co-investigators, Dr. Trisha Wise-Draper and Dr. Alice Tang, we will identify and recruit a cohort of patients who have been diagnosed with mouth and throat cancers and will regularly collect oral rinse samples, roughly every three months for two-years, following their initial diagnosis and treatment,” he says. "Our team will catalog the methylation patterns across the 22 regions that make up our biomarker panel and document how they impact gene expression by applying DNA and RNA sequencing techniques on matched tumor and normal tissue from mouth and throat cancer patients.”

Langevin says his team will assess the potential use of the oral rinse methylation panel as a tool for early detection of cancer recurrence during the first two years of post-treatment patient follow-up.

"This has clear clinical relevance and could serve as a beneficial tool for early detection and subsequent early intervention of these very serious cancers, potentially improving outcomes for patients,” he says.  

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