Tuesday, February 19

UCLA researchers find a method of testing saliva that may detect early stages of pancreatic cancer

Saliva sampling may lead to early diagnosis of highly lethal pancreatic cancer, according to a study by a multidisciplinary group of UCLA researchers.

Pancreatic cancer gathers the fourth highest morality rate among all cancer types, with a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent, according to Dr. David Wong, UCLA’s Felix and Mildred Yip Professor of Dentistry and associate dean of research at the dental school.

The team of researchers focused on detection of biomarkers in saliva samples, showing that level fluctuations of elements in the sample could indicate the health or presence of a disease in a patient.

The new testing method will give doctors more treatment options, according to Hui Zhou, a senior statistician of the UCLA School of Dentistry Dental Research Institute.

“The thinking is, if you can detect the cancer at precancer, the doctors have a lot of treatments to stop the cancer from progressing. Our target is for early detection because now there is no efficient way to do that.”

The problem with pancreatic cancer is that there are very few symptoms of the disease until the cancer progresses into late stages, according to the study.

Wong said the first use of this research would be as a diagnostic tool for those who are thought to be at high risk for the cancer. He said it would be used as a way to avoid expensive further testing, as 40 percent of those suspected of having the disease end up turning out negative.

This could translate into a difference between spending hundreds of dollars on an imaging scan and spending less than $5 on a saliva test.

The price, Wong said, could affect the decision of insurance companies on whether or not to conduct the test.

The big-picture goal of the research is to facilitate larger scale pancreatic cancer screening through saliva testing, said David Chia, a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine.

He added that this research has not been able to accomplish this yet because the biomarkers are not specific enough to only detect the presence of the cancer and nothing else.

The next step for the research is to be tested by a number of different institutes, which would test the validity of the UCLA findings, Wong said. He said he expects this to be completed in three years. Then, he added, a proposal would be sent to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

The last step is to work with pharmaceutical companies to develop extensive treatments.

The study began in February 2006, and has since included 114 samples gathered from the UCLA Medical Center. Of these, 42 were patients that had pancreatic cancer, 30 had a similar but noncancerous disease of the pancreas, and 42 were healthy.

The study included researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry, the Geffen School of Medicine, the UCLA School of Public Health and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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