How A ‘Lollipop’ May Help Diagnose Mouth Cancer

Lollipops are often used as a treat for kids who have dealt with something unpleasant, like a doctor’s appointment or sitting patiently at a boring bank. However, these “treats” are also being developed into something more complex: cancer diagnostics.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, along with a team from the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry, has developed a “lollipop” made from a smart hydrogel that can detect mouth cancer. This new technology expands the medical use of biogels, which the team says are generally used for drug delivery and tissue regeneration.

Plate of multicolored lollipops

The hydrogel works by concentrating and labeling proteins with a fluorescent marker, which helps detect low abundance proteins from smaller samples. The hydrogel is bonded to the fluorescent marker and uses it to capture these proteins, which are later released from the hydrogel when exposed to light.

The development of the “lollipop”, as well as its effectiveness, was discussed in a paper published in the journal Analyst. The paper showed that 50% of the captured proteins were released within 100 seconds of UV light exposure and that the gel has a concentration factor of 236.

The team hopes that the hydrogel could ultimately be a simplified and less invasive diagnostic tool for mouth cancer than what’s currently available. They say it can be used at room temperature and either directly on patients or in vitro.

Hand holding pink lollipop

Cancer Research Horizon, an offshoot of Cancer Research UK, has filed a patent application for this hydrogel, and the research team is looking for partners who can help them develop it in other areas.

Dr. Gupta says, “Smart hydrogels have really exciting potential for diagnosing mouth cancer. They can be easily molded into shapes as a solid to ‘catch’ proteins in saliva, and we’re hoping that we can be the first to make a device which is much kinder for diagnosing mouth cancer for patients and easier for GPs to use.

“Beyond this project, we’re keen to investigate other possibilities for the hydrogel, and will welcome approaches from research or commercial organizations who want to collaborate on research or commercialization.”

Plate of red and green lollipops
PHOTO: PIXABAY / Дарья Яковлева
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