Blood marker may reduce cancer burden

Researchers at Flinders University are expanding work on a promising blood test model to help predict or diagnose head and neck cancer, a difficult cancer to pick up early and treat.

With cancer accounting for almost 10 million a year, the Global Burden of Disease report (2017) attributed more than 380,000 deaths to head and neck cancer.

The Australian research at Flinders University has discovered a blood serum microRNA biomarker signature for oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, recently reported in a new study in the Journal of Translational Medicine (BMC Springer Nature).

The signature might have potential for the detection of other squamous mucosal Head and Neck cancers, the researchers say, adding the latest development, flowing from previous NHMRC Australian Government funding for developing blood biomarkers for oesophageal cancer, is encouraging.

Members of the Head and Neck cancer blood biomarker development team – Associate Professor Eng Ooi, left, Dr Damian Hussey and Dr Charmaine Woods, right (Dr George Mayne absent) with technical officer Isabell Bastian at the research Flinders Medical Centre lab. Photo Flinders Foundation

“MicroRNAs are potential biomarkers for early head and neck squamous cell cancer diagnosis, prognosis, recurrence, and presence of metastatic disease. However, there is no widespread agreement on a panel of miRNAs with clinically meaningful utility for head and neck squamous cell cancers,” says Flinders University researcher Dr Damian Hussey.

“If our test can be translated to clinic, then it could facilitate surveillance, earlier diagnosis and treatment – including for identifying people with early stage, or at increased risk of developing, Head and Neck cancer,” says fellow researcher Associate Professor Eng Ooi.

The latest study used a novel approach to produce a biomarker signature with good cross validated predictive capacity. Researchers say the results warrant further investigations.

The new publication, ‘Cross validated serum small extracellular vesicle microRNAs for the detection of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma’ (2020) by GC Mayne, CM Woods, N Dharmawardana, T Wang, S Krishnan, JC Hodge, A Foreman, S Boase, AS Carney, EAW Sigston, DI Watson, EH Ooi and DJ Hussey has been published in the Journal of Translational Medicine (BMC Springer Nature) DOI: 10.1186/s12967-020-02446-1

This work was supported by a grant from the Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation and a grant from Flinders Foundation.



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College of Medicine and Public Health