Oral Rinse Detects Mouth and Throat Cancers

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann continues her work on a patented cancer screening tool she uses to assess people in the communities Sylvester serves.

A researcher at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is leading the development of an oral rinse for detecting mouth and throat cancers.

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, M.D., with the oral rinse she patented for cancer care.
Elizabeth Franzmann, M.D., developed and patented an oral rinse that has proven effective in identifying mouth and throat cancers.

“This is a promising strategy for screening high-risk individuals so these dangerous cancers can be detected at an early stage,” said Elizabeth J. Franzmann, M.D., Sylvester researcher, specialist in head and neck surgery and a professor of otolaryngology at the Miller School.

Inexpensive, Non-invasive Cancer Screening

With her research team, Dr. Franzmann has invented an inexpensive and non-invasive salivary screening test that uses a patented combination of three biomarkers to identify molecular features associated with cancers resulting from tobacco, alcohol and the human papillomavirus virus (HPV).

“The challenge for doctors, dentists and oral hygienists is that red lesions and white in the mouth are very common,” said Dr. Franzmann. “While most are benign, malignant cancers can grow very quickly, so follow-up care is very important.”

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Game Changer vehicle.
Dr. Franzmann has used Sylvester’s Game Changer vehicle to screen high-risk people in South Florida.

She added that the detection of throat cancers requires an expert’s physical examination and can be difficult for non-specialists in the field.

The incidence of head and neck cancers is increasing worldwide. As the seventh-most deadly cancer, younger populations are being diagnosed with head and neck cancers more frequently than previously seen. It has been predicted that there will be a 30% increase in this type of cancer by the year 2030.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol and tobacco are major risk factors for cancers of the head and neck. Drinking any type of alcohol also raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box. Approximately 70% of cancers in the oropharynx, which includes the tonsils, soft palate and base of the tongue, are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus.

Early Cancer Detection in South Florida

Dr. Franzmann has been working on this early detection approach for two decades, with early funding from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute. Additional support came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), Florida’s Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program and the University of Miami.

Miller School of Medicine professor and researcher Dr. Isildinha Reis.
Miller School of Medicine professor and researcher Isildinha Reis, Ph.D., is working with Dr. Frantzmann to recruit study participants.

Currently, Dr. Franzmann is continuing her research by screening high-risk members of the South Florida community through Sylvester’s Game Changer vehicle.

“There is a high rate of head and neck cancers in this community,” she said. “We want to obtain samples from individuals at risk while offering them a leading-edge screening tool.”

Working with her co-principal investigator, Isildinha Reis, Ph.D., a Miller School research professor, Division of Biostatistics, Department of Public Health Sciences, Dr. Franzmann is about halfway to the goal of recruiting 200 participants in her field research.

 “Our participants simply rinse their mouths and gargle for five seconds, and we can see the results right away,” said Dr. Franzmann. “The test has identified a number of precancerous lesions, and we guide those individuals on where to go for further testing, and make sure we follow up with them.”

A Simple Test for Mouth and Throat Cancers

To identify mouth and throat cancers, the oral rinse uses CD44, a cancer stem cell marker; P16, a cancer marker; and total protein. The three markers have been well-studied and this combination can provide a highly accurate indication of an individual’s cancer risk.

Miller School of Medicine's Dr. Erin Kobetz
Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., is working with Dr. Franzmann to license the technology involved in the oral rinse.

“Saliva-based diagnostics have many advantages over blood serum,” said Dr. Franzmann, who was the lead author of a 2021 study published in Basic Science Review. “Saliva is simple to collect, easy to store and ship, and does not require trained personnel for collection. Changes in salivary components, such as DNA, RNA, proteins, antibodies and hormones, can reflect oral and systemic health.”

Dr. Franzmann is now working closely with Erin Kobetz Ph.D., M.P.H. associate director, community outreach and engagement at Sylvester, John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and vice provost for research at the University of Miami, to license this patented Sylvester biomedical technology.

“Saliva diagnostics offer a cost-effective approach for screening high-risk individuals and monitoring of patients with a previous history of oral or throat cancers,” said Dr. Franzmann. “Because patients who begin treatment at an earlier stage experience significantly improved outcomes, a salivary test can have a very positive impact in our fight against these deadly malignancies.”

Tags: Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, head and neck cancers, oral cancer, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, USNWR ENT