Dental researchers confirm microRNAs as biomarkers for oral cancer detection


A new study published by researchers at the UCLA School of Dentistry substantiates the effectiveness of measuring the microRNAs present in saliva to detect oral squamous cell carcinoma. Like hall monitors in an elementary school, microRNAs are the molecules produced by cells that simultaneously asses the behavior of multiple genes and control their activity.

Dr. David Wong, UCLA’s Felix and Mildred Yip Professor of Dentistry, and his colleagues previously demonstrated the usefulness of proteome and transcriptome diagnostics for oral cancer; this new research expands the “diagnostic alphabet” of genetic salivary biomarkers that can yield a diagnosis on the molecular level long before a tumor is present. The scientists’ latest results show that while the saliva of healthy individuals contains about 50 microRNAs, two in particular — miR-125a and miR-200a — are present at significantly different levels in the saliva of individuals suffering from oral squamous cell carcinoma.


Oral squamous cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of oral cancers worldwide and is the sixth most common cancer in the United States. It is particularly lethal, with a five-year survival rate post-diagnosis that hovers below 50 percent and has not improved in three decades. Enhancements in the area of early diagnosis, therefore, are key to making strides against the disease. This latest research offers another minimally invasive, cost-effective method for early detection of the disease that can be translated to earlier treatment and potential improvement in long-term survival rates.


Noh Jin Park, Hui Zhou, Bradley Henson and David Wong of the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Dental Research Institute; David Elashoff of the UCLA School of Public Health; Dragana Kastratovic of the Centre for Clinical Pharmacology at the Clinical Centre of Serbia; and Elliot Abemayor of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.


The research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.


The research appears in the Sept. 1 print edition of the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Cancer Research and is currently available in the journal’s advance online edition.


The full paper and corresponding imagery can be viewed online at

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