Research Highlight

New drug target for oral cancer

doi:10.1038/nindia.2014.72 Published online 27 May 2014

Researchers have linked high serum levels of vascular endothelial growth factor, a marker protein, to the proliferation of oral cancer cells1. As a result, this marker protein could potentially be used for diagnosing oral cancer. In addition, this protein may act as a potential drug target for treating oral cancer.

In India, oral cancer afflicts 20 out of 100,000 people. It is generally diagnosed in its later stages, resulting in poor treatment outcomes and considerable costs to patients. This delayed diagnosis reduces the chances of patient survival.

To develop an early diagnosis technique for oral cancer, the researchers analysed the serum of oral cancer patients. They looked for links between vascular endothelial growth factor — a serum marker protein — and growth of oral cancer cells. This marker protein regulates the proliferation and permeability of cancer cells.

The researchers found that oral cancer patients had significantly higher serum levels of vascular endothelial growth factor than healthy individuals. They also discovered that this marker protein was highly expressed in oral cancer cells and other tumour tissues.

They found that treating two types of oral cancer cells with the marker protein enhanced the proliferation of the cancer cells. The researchers say that the serum levels of this marker protein may be a reliable biomarker for oral cancer and could also be used as a potential target for developing a treatment for tobacco-induced oral cancer.


1. Aggarwal, S. et al. Expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in patients with oral squamous cell carcinoma and its clinical significance. Clin. Chim. Acta. 436, 35–40 (2014) doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2014.04.027