Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found a way to predict the aggressiveness of mouth cancer in patients.
Published in Clinical Cancer Research, the investigators found a consistent pattern of gene expression associated with tumour spreading in mice. Analysing genetic data from human oral cancer samples, they also found this gene signature in people with aggressive metastatic tumours.
Researcher Ravindra Uppaluri said: “Patients often have a history of tobacco and alcohol use, which drive the development of these tumours. We felt that exposing the mice to a carcinogen would be more likely to produce similar kinds of tumours.”
This exposure sometimes produced tumours in the mice that did not spread, but other times resulted in aggressive metastatic tumours, similar to the variety of tumours seen in people.
Further analysis identified a common signature in the expression of about 120 genes that was associated with the more aggressive tumours, whether in mice or people. The researchers confirmed this signature using data collected from 324 human patients. Subsequently, using oral cancer samples from patients treated at Washington University, they developed a proof of concept test from their signature that identified the aggressive tumours with about 93 per cent accuracy.
Uppaluri has a patent pending on this technology and recently received funding to develop a laboratory test that predicts aggressive disease and would be easily available for any patient diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
Pictured left to right: co-authors Michael Onken and Ashley Winkler with team leader Ravindra Uppaluri