A 33-year-old research fellow from the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University will work in collaboration with a research partner from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, on the development of a non-invasive saliva-based test for the early detection of oral cancer.
Shanaya Patel Bakeri, who has been working on oral cancer since 2011, was selected for her cell-free DNA research project from the country for the prestigious DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance Early Career Fellowship. The funding, with a budget cap of Rs 1.7 billion, is for a period of five years.
DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance is an independent public charity that funds research in health and biomedicine in India.
Shanaya will work under the direction of Professor Vivek Tanavde, Associate Professor of Biology and Life Sciences at the School of Arts and Sciences. Professor Balachandran Ravindran, who served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Life Sciences and Life Sciences at Ahmedabad University, is the mentor for the project, which will officially launch from January 2022.
“Head and neck cancer (HNC), which includes oral cancer, remains one of the unsolved problems of the Indian subcontinent with 1.35 lakh new cases annually from tobacco, gutka and khaini consumption. Despite advances in treatment, survival is disappointingly low at five years, a main reason being late diagnosis. Only 14 percent of cases are diagnosed in the premalignant stage or stage 1, ”says Shanaya.
In her proposal, she emphasized that the development of disease-specific non-invasive tests is essential for early detection. Plasma cell-free DNA (cfDNA) has proven to be a promising non-invasive technology for the early detection of cancer. “
Tanavde stated that the John Hopkins University School of Medicine also wants to develop early detection of head and neck cancer and has pioneered the use of cfDNA technology.
“The study aims to identify cfDNA fragmentation patterns from saliva and plasma of oral cancer patients and to investigate whether these fragments can be used for early detection,” says Shanaya.
There is no oral cancer early detection marker available for prostate cancer and breast cancer. “Now we’ve identified some biomarkers. But the need of the hour is to have a marker to detect this cancer early, ”she adds.
Pointing out that these malignancies are very painful and the biopsies traumatizing for the patient, she said, “Now we can use saliva. What we would be working on is whether saliva can be used for the early detection of oral cancer. “
This project is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Kaustubh Patel from HCG Comprehensive Cancer Hospital, Ahmedabad, and Dr. Mariana Brait of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Shanaya received her PhD in oral cancer from the Gujarat Cancer and Research Institute in 2017 and joined Ahmedabad University as a national postdoctoral fellow in 2018.