Record recruits as “lab on a chip” study sends Sheffield to top of country
A clinical trial developing cutting edge technology to diagnose oral cancer more quickly and effectively has helped to send Sheffield to the top of a national league table.
The “lab on a chip” trial, led in Sheffield by Professor Martin Thornhill, is working with researchers from Rice University in the USA to develop a device that could be used by a dentist to determine if a patient has oral cancer or other abnormalities in less than 20 minutes. It has recruited 275 patients in the past 18 months, helping Sheffield to recruit more patients into oral and dental research than any other research centre in the country this year.
The league table has been put together by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield rank top out of over 400 research centres in the country for numbers of study recruits.
The current procedure used to detect oral cancer in a suspicious lesion involves using a scalpel to perform a biopsy and off-site laboratory tests that can be time-consuming. The new test will involve 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. This will have a number of benefits including cutting waiting times and the number of patient visits.
Patients are being tested on the new device, which is being compared to the standard biopsy procedure to test its accuracy and reliability. If the trial shows that the new technology is as effective as carrying out a biopsy then it could become standard procedure at dentist surgeries in the future.
The technology could also be adapted for other purposes, with possibilities for it to be used, for example, in detecting whether or not a patient is having a heart attack, or to test a driver for drugs at the roadside.
Martin Thornhill, Professor of Oral Medicine at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Consultant in Oral Medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “This new technology is an exciting development in the search for quicker and more effective diagnosis of oral cancer. The current procedure we have for making a diagnosis – 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 painlessly to remove a few cells and a result could be produced in minutes.
“We’re delighted that so many patients have been willing to take part in this trial. The trial is the main reason we now rank top of the country for recruits to oral and dental studies, and this indicates how successful it has been so far. Patients are willing to take part in this study because they see the real potential it has in improving patient care in the future.”
Patient Carole Scott, 51, of Gleadless, has taken part in the trial. Carole was diagnosed with oral cancer in December last year, and had a biopsy to confirm diagnosis. She has now returned for a precautionary test on the other side of her mouth, and this time took part in the trial, having both a test with the new technology and a biopsy.
Carole 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.
“I can see real benefits for patients like me in the future. The technology could really reduce the waiting time for patients and give much more peace of mind. To get your results in just a few minutes, which may well be possible, would save a lot of worry. I hope it will become the standard test in the future.”
The study is to finish later this year, after which results will be published.