Oral fluids, such as saliva, and oral mucosal cells are currently being studied as substitutes for blood and/or biopsies for disease diagnosis. These materials are easy to obtain and eliminate the need for needle sticks, local anesthesia, or surgery . Nanotechnology is being developed that will allow these tests to be done on very small samples and performed at the point of care, greatly reducing time to diagnosis. This article provides a review of several areas of research incorporating oral diagnostics for systemic diseases. One of the areas discussed is the development of a rapid test for oral cancer. Oral cancer is a significant problem in the US population with 35,000 new cases per year and 8000 deaths. Five year survival (60%) is among the lowest for all major cancers, because patients are not usually diagnosed until they have advanced disease. Early diagnosis improves five year survival to over 90%. A point of care diagnostic test for oral cancer is being developed by a research consortium including Rice University, The University of Texas Health Science Centers at San Antonio and Houston, and Sheffield University in England. This test will use a simple non-invasive brush to collect cells from the patient's mouth and complete the test at the point of care in real time. Currently such diagnoses are made from a surgical biopsy requiring painful local anesthesia and submission of tissue to a pathologist for assessment which commonly takes up to a week to complete. The brush test will be simple to perform, reduce patient discomfort and shorten time to diagnosis. This should help facilitate early diagnosis of oral cancer and improve cure rates. Clinical studies supported by the National Institutes of Health and The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas are ongoing to develop the test. Patients are being recruited from the CTRC to participate in this study.
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