Cutting edge trial puts Sheffield research top of the league
A clinical trial developing a revolutionary technique 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 by Professor Martin Thornhill from the University of Sheffield, 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.
A group of 275 patients have taken part in the trial over 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, put together by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), ranked Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield number one out around 300 research centres in the country for the number of study participants.
The current procedure used to detect oral cancer in suspicious lesions 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 currently being tested on the new device, which is being compared to the standard biopsy procedure to test its accuracy and reliability.
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 to remove a few cells painlessly 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. Patients are willing to take part in this study because they see the real potential it has in improving patient care in the future."
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."
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 heart attacks, or testing a driver for drugs at the roadside.
The study is to finish later this year, after which results will be published.
Notes for Editors: With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK's leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.
The University's research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.
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