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Multi-analyte liquid biopsy-based biomarkers for oropharyngeal cancer

Project Member(s): Ebrahimi Warkiani, M.

Funding or Partner Organisation: National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC - Ideas Grants)
National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC - Ideas Grants)

Start year: 2022

Summary: The incidence of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) or throat cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) is rapidly increasing globally. About 20% of OPCs re-occur. Current methods for detecting recurrence at an early and potentially salvageable stage are poor, invasive and are associated with high rates of morbidity. Conventional methods of tumour staging and prognostication have not translated into our ability to discriminate sufficiently to either reduce treatment (de-escalate) or intensify treatment for OPC patients. As a result, two major clinical trials have failed to demonstrate the merits of de-escalation therapy in OPC patients using the current risk stratification methods. Currently, we rely on imaging and clinical examination, both of which lack accuracy in detecting treatment relapse. Liquid biopsy is a simple and non-invasive alternative to tumour biopsy, which enables clinicians to investigate a range of information about a tumour through the analysis of a simple blood or saliva sample. Our vision is to change the current paradigm of OPC management by providing clinicians with a new arsenal of independent liquid biopsy assays to predict prognosis and to monitor treatment response in OPC patients. Identifying earlier patients at lower risk of recurrence may allow us to accurately select patients suitable for less toxic treatment. Enhancing treatment response in OPC patients will reduce the reliance on traditional nuclear imaging scans that are both costly and imprecise. We hypothesis that by combining independent liquid biopsy assay technologies into a single classifier we can comprehensively characterise a patient’s tumour, whereby leading to significant improvements in predicting prognosis and monitoring treatment response in OPC patients. This world-first study harnesses the power of liquid biopsy assays to revolutionise current clinical practice for management of OPC patients where by significantly reducing healthcare costs.

FOR Codes: HEALTH, Cancer diagnosis