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ATSU professor develops better screening tool for oral cancer

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Dr. James Michael Menke, associate director of the Still Research Institute at Mesa's A.T. Still University (ATSU), has developed a more accurate screening tool for oral cancer. (Submitted photo)

Dr. James Michael Menke, associate director of the Still Research Institute at Mesa’s A.T. Still University (ATSU), has developed a more accurate screening tool for oral cancer, using fewer salivary biomarkers to determine the presence of the disease. His research paper, three years in the making, was published in the November 2017 issue of “Biomarkers in Cancer.”

In developed nations like the United States, screening tools rely on thousands of biomarkers to determine the presence of oral cancer. However, these tests are too expensive to administer effectively in poor and rural areas.

Menke began his work at International Medical University in Malaysia. The Malaysian diet tends to be high in salted foods, a major risk factor for cancers of the mouth. He was tasked with developing a screening tool that could be administered by dentists in rural communities, often deep in the jungle. It would need to be inexpensive and easy to transport, requiring minimal preservation or refrigeration.

To simplify the screening tool, Menke set out to reduce the number of biomarkers required to arrive at a certainty that cancer is present. Rather than creating new technology, he borrowed from the principles of psychology, applying psychometric theory to determine the likelihood of cancer with minimal testing. Like the psychological measurement of intelligence, the body is given sequential tests using specific biomarkers associated with cancer. With each test, the likelihood of cancer increases, until the presence of the disease is a near certainty. Reading tests in a specific order is much more efficient, requiring as few as five biomarkers to reach a highly accurate screening result.

“It’s a huge contribution to healthcare because it will be simpler and cheaper to screen more people for the disease,” Menke said. “Anything you can do to catch cancer earlier, prevent it, or treat it, makes a huge difference in its outcome.”

Learn more about Menke’s research.

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