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New research: A portable, non-invasive way to detect oral cancer

Experts from the Guru Nanak Institute of Dental Sciences and Research in West Bengal supervised the clinical trials, and have established the efficacy of the new method in differentiating cancerous and precancerous stages of suspected oral abnormalities.

Oral cancer is one the most common cancers in India among men (11.28 per cent of all cancers), and the fifth most frequently occurring cancer among women (4.3 per cent of all cancers).

Scientists from IIT Kharagpur have developed a portable, user-friendly, and non-invasive device for detecting oral cancer in resource-constrained clinical settings.

Experts from the Guru Nanak Institute of Dental Sciences and Research in West Bengal supervised the clinical trials, and have established the efficacy of the new method in differentiating cancerous and precancerous stages of suspected oral abnormalities, as verified by high-standard biopsy reports.

The research has been published recently in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), USA. (‘Portable, handheld, and affordable blood perfusion imager for screening of subsurface cancer in resource-limited settings’: Arka Bhowmik, Suman Chakraborty, and others)

“This is a low-cost, handheld imaging device to screen oral cancer and precancer based on measured change in blood flow rate of the tissue from thermal imaging and analytics. The blood perfusion imager, which combines a miniature far-infrared camera and a humidity sensor, are electronically controlled and interfaced with a combined physics-based and data-driven software engine,” Prof Suman Chakraborty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IIT-Kharagpur told The Indian Express.

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“The handheld unit combines various sensors and controllers that feed the measured data to a computer simulation engine to classify normal, precancer and cancer cases in the oral cavity without needing referral to specialised medical centres for resource-intensive diagnostic procedures,” he said.

Cancer of the oral cavity remains one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in socially-challenged and underserved communities. There is an 80 per cent chance on average of a five-year survival rate if diagnosed early; the survival rate drops to 65 per cent or less in more advanced stages of the disease.

In reality, most oral cancers remain undetected until they have reached an advanced stage. In resource-limited settings, there is a serious dearth of accurate yet affordable diagnostic tools to arrive at a decisive recommendation during the first possible clinical examination of the patient, when the disease may otherwise be in precancer or early cancer stage.

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“The new technology offers the possibility of detecting potential vulnerable cases early enough, during a first examination by a clinician in a community health centre. As an inexpensive co-option to standard and established clinical practices, this value-added tool is likely to strengthen the confidence of doctors in preliminary decision making,” Prof Chakraborty said.

The technology is currently available for ready licensing to companies for commercial adaptation. It may be subjected to more extensive statutory field trials before clinical use, which could take about two years from now, Prof Chakraborty said.

The estimated cost per device is within $500, he said.

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First published on: 26-01-2022 at 00:32 IST
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