Moffitt Cancer Center has been awarded a $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to advance research on a noninvasive diagnostic biomarker panel for early detection of oropharyngeal cancer. The research is led by Anna R. Giuliano, PhD.
Key aspects of the research and grant include:
Rise in Oropharyngeal Cancers: There has been an increase in oropharyngeal cancers, which develop in parts of the throat like the base of the tongue, soft palate, tonsils, or back wall. About 80% of these cancers are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection type 16.
Challenges of Late-Stage Diagnosis: Late-stage diagnoses of oropharyngeal cancers often necessitate intensive chemo-radiation treatments, leading to a high incidence of disease, long-term disabilities, and mortality. Early detection is crucial for improving patient outcomes.
Development of Oral Gargle Biomarker Panel: The research team at Moffitt Cancer Center has developed an oral gargle biomarker panel specifically for early detection of oropharyngeal cancer. This panel can differentiate between early cancer cases and controls using a single oral gargle specimen.
Enhancement of the Biomarker Panel: A follow-up study improved the panel’s specificity and sensitivity by including oral HPV 16 status and 13 differentially methylated regions mapping to genes.
Potential Impact of the Test: Giuliano, the co-principal investigator of the study, believes that this noninvasive test, which can be easily obtained in routine dental practice, could lead to a paradigm shift in diagnosing and treating oropharyngeal cancer.
Next Phase of Biomarker Development: The next phase involves leveraging biorepositories of early oropharyngeal cancer cases and research infrastructure at Moffitt and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. The goal is to advance clinical assay development and validation by evaluating the oral biomarker panel among 200 oropharyngeal cancer cases (100 early and 100 late-stage) and 200 matched controls.
Study Hypothesis: The central hypothesis is that early oropharyngeal cancer cases can be distinguished from cancer-free individuals using biomarkers related to HPV and host epigenetic alterations. This could enable the identification of tumors treatable with a single modality, maximizing survival chances.