Oral cancer diagnosed in under 20 minutes in Sheffield

'Lab on a chip' machine which could remove the need for biopsies.
'Lab on a chip' machine which could remove the need for biopsies.
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MEDICS in Sheffield have developed a revolutionary new technique to diagnose oral cancer in less than 20 minutes - meaning they may no longer need to take time-consuming and painful biopsies.

Professor Martin Thornhill, from The University of Sheffield, is leading a clinical trial for new ‘lab on a chip’ technology, which could be used by dentists to determine if patients have oral cancer or other abnormalities.

A group of 275 patients in Sheffield have taken part in the trial over the past 18 months.

If the trial shows the new technology is as effective as carrying out a biopsy, it could become standard procedure at dental surgeries.

The technology could also be adapted for other purposes, such as detecting heart attacks or testing drivers at the roadside for drugs.

The current procedure used to detect oral cancer in suspicious lesions involves using a scalpel to take a sample which is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

The new test involves removing cells with a brush, placing them on a chip, and inserting the chip into an analyser - leading to a result in a matter of minutes.

Carole Scott, aged 51, of Charnock, Sheffield, has been taking part in the trial since she was diagnosed with oral cancer last December.

She said: “This trial is very exciting - the new technology is fantastic and taking part has been very easy and simple.

“For me there was no comparison between the biopsy and the new test. Using the brush was just so much easier - I hardly felt anything. I would recommend it to anyone.

“To get your results in just a few minutes, which may well be possible, also saves a lot of worry. I hope it will become the standard test in the future.”

Prof Thornhill, consultant in oral medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “The current procedure - taking a biopsy - can take a week or more to produce results and can involve extra visits from patients.

“With our new technology, a brush can be used to remove a few cells painlessly and a result could be produced in minutes.

“We’re delighted so many patients have been willing to take part in this trial.”