Thesis Spotlight: Early Diagnosis of HPV-Linked Oral Cancer

Author: Rebekah DeLine

Patrick Rice is a South Bend native and 2012 Notre Dame graduate.  He is the eldest of seven children and enjoys running, swimming, and spending time with his family.  Following his ESTEEM graduation this coming May, Patrick will be joining Ernst & Young in their performance improvement/advising services division.

Patrick’s thesis work is centered around a portable screening device focused on detecting HPV-linked oral cancer. The thesis work combines the patented technology of Dr. Chia Chang and provisionally patented technology of Dr. Sharon Stack with the hopes of creating an alternative to current oral screening processes.

According to Dr. Stack, “More than 20 million Americans have oral HPV, and the virus is asymptomatic in most people. In a fraction of those, the virus infects the oropharynx (tonsillar area) and is not cleared by the immune system.  This can start the process for a tumor to grow in an area of the body where a tumor is hard to detect.  Our lab has developed a molecular signature that may allow us to determine whether a person’s body is responding to HPV in a manner that indicates the presence of a growing tumor.  We are fortunate to collaborate with the Chang lab, who are experts in biosensor development, to translate this molecular signature into what aims to be an efficient, accurate, and low-cost sensor that will allow us to detect the presence of an oncogenic (tumor causing) HPV infection in a simple oral rinse mouthwash sample.”

With an early diagnosis of HPV-linked oral cancer, the 5 year survival rate can be increased by upwards of 80%. Current practices lack the ability to detect a pre-growth or early-stage tumor, missing important biological activity in the oral cavity. Furthermore, current practices have low specificity and sensitivity, increasing the likelihood of false-positive or false-negative diagnoses. Through a simple saliva test, medical professionals, including dentists and primary care physicians, will be able to correctly diagnose and swiftly respond to HPV-linked oral cancer.

Through the ESTEEM program, Patrick is using his pre-medical background in a practical way. Working side by side with inventors, Patrick is able to utilize the ESTEEM coursework to construct and execute a viable business plan for bringing the Chang and Stack technologies to market.

UPDATE:  ON Saturday, February 15th, Patrick and his team NanDIO won the Cardinal Challenge in Louisville.  They won $15K in Cash and $125K as a startup pacakage from an incubator based in Louisville. Their submission - based upon Patrick's thesis project - was lead by a team of 3 that included  Ben Biller (MBA) and Marcy Kremier (Patent Law).