Faculty Gets Patent for Potential Method to Diagnose Cancer Through Saliva

Dr. Vincent K. Tsiagbe

RSDM oral biologist Dr. Vincent K. Tsiagbe has received a U.S. patent for a method of detecting cancer through analysis of saliva.

If successful in human clinical trials, it would provide a non-invasive method to diagnose cancer and track the success of treatment after chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The patented method, which also detects cancer in blood and tissue samples, involves production of specific antibodies that pinpoint a novel cancer-associated molecule.

“We can detect very high expressions levels of a protein found in aggressive cancers, including B cell lymphomas, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer,’’ said Dr. Tsiagbe.

The process involves cloning a gene that triggers production of a cancer-associated protein in subjects, says Tsiagbe.

“The purpose of getting the patent is to show that you have a unique reagent that can be used as a potential diagnostic marker,’’ he explained. The next step is to use the patent to develop a kit that could reliably provide accurate test results.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Tsiagbe began studying B cell lymphomas in mice, which led him to discover an endogenous retrovirus protein which is produced by lymphoma cells.

“Endogenous retroviruses are gene segments of ancient infectious viruses that have integrated into the host and degenerated over millions of years ago to become non-infectious,’’ Dr. Tsiagbe explained.

“It has been proposed that the immune system harbors these fragments in order to help us in mounting defense against future infections of these viruses,’’ he added. “Most are non-infectious but they can be reactivated in transformed cells, which might become cancerous.’’

The cloned gene patented by Dr. Tsiagbe is able to trigger increased production of the retrovirus protein in aggressive lymphomas so that they are detectable.