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GFC Diagnostics awarded R&D grant to develop saliva test


GFC Diagnostics, a company that produces and supplies a simple test to detect and monitor tobacco smoking habits, has been awarded a £20,000 SEEDA Micro Research and Development Grant to help the business develop a saliva-based test.

With tobacco consumption recognised as the UK’s single largest cause of preventable illnesses and early death (more than 114,000 people die each year from smoke related diseases, including cancer), health practitioners require quick and effective tests which give them as much accuracy as possible when dealing with patients who smoke.

Formed in 2007, GFC Diagnostics, an Oxford Enterprise Hub company, has developed a range of testing products using its SafeTube device, including SmokeScreen.  SafeTube is a patented device which enables quick and easy tests to be conducted away from the laboratory, without the need for expensive instrumentation.

SmokeScreen is a rapid urine test which can be used to correctly identify the habits of a smoker, with a colour chart available to measure the level of nicotine intake. SmokeScreen is sensitive enough to detect even passive smoking levels.  It has been used to help pregnant women, as well as patients with heart disease, to quit smoking.

The initial invention and development was carried out in the Wolfson Applied Technology Laboratory within the University of Birmingham, work which was supported by the Department of Health.

Smokers tend to deny smoking or under-report their cigarette consumption if questioned by doctors, especially if they feel they will not receive the best treatment. Previously, a doctor would either have to take the patient’s word, which could give false results, or urine or saliva samples were sent away to a lab, usually in another hospital, for analysis.  GFC Diagnostics’ solution is both is quicker and cheaper.

Using the SEEDA Micro Fund, GFC Diagnostics is now aiming to develop a new, saliva based test, which primarily will be used to monitor smoking for oral diseases.  The money will be used to improve the sensitivity of the chemistry used in the SmokeScreen test, to make it clearer to see and to devise a simple saliva collection device.

“Mouth cancer kills one person every three hours in the UK because of late detection, and increasingly young people are being affected,” explains Bruce Savage, CEO, GFC Diagnostics.  “Oral cancer can occur in any part of the mouth, tongue, lips, throat, salivary glands, pharynx, larynx, sinus, and other places in the head and neck area.  These ‘mouth cancers’ have a higher proportion of deaths per number of cases than breast cancer, cervical cancer or skin melanoma.

“Furthermore, three in every four patients with oral cancer smoke. Malignant lesions include conditions called leukoplakias, erythroplasias, dysplastics, which are regularly checked for by dentists.

“Testing for smokers has never really been conducted by dentists; it is only now they are becoming interested in getting patients to quit smoking and previously the testing could not be done on saliva in dental practice by non-laboratory technicians.”

Dr Graham Cope, Chief Scientific Officer for GFC Diagnostics, said “Smoking is the major cause of oral disease.  Now that more dentists are advising their patients to stop smoking they need to know how many are smoking regularly and whether their advice is having an effect. Unfortunately, patients do not give accurate information when asked. This new saliva test will give a definitive measure of smoking of any habit.”

GFC Diagnostics works closely with users of its products to ensure optimal use of SmokeScreen and other tests.   The company has affiliations with the life insurance industry, public and private healthcare providers, medical research groups, and smoking cessation clinics, in the UK and around the world.

“The Hub has been able to introduce GFC to large pharmaceutical companies looking to partner younger companies and has helped them put their R&D grant application together,” explains Wendy Tindsley, Portfolio Director for the Oxfordshire Enterprise Hub.  “It is unlikely that the company would have been able to develop the new product without the grant.

“GFC has been an excellent company for the Hub to work with; their technology is cutting edge, there is a clearly defined need for the product in the marketplace and the new test provides an exciting expansion opportunity for the company.  On top of this, they have a product which has the potential to improve peoples’ health and save lives.”

Contact: Wendy Tindsley
Publish Date: 01st December 2008

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