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Investing in health, and beyond Genome BC puts funding towards oral cancer, marine diversity and other projects

Vancouver, BC – Oral cancer (OC) is a global health problem with high incidence and high mortality. OC has worldwide impact, accounting for 274,000 new cases and 145,000 deaths each year. The 5 year survival rates range from 30-60% and are among the most deadly of all cancer types. Most troubling, however, is the lack of significant change in prognosis for this cancer over the last 50 years, even in developed countries.

In most cases, OC is treated surgically, followed by adjuvant radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments. When successful, treatment of OC often results in diminished quality of life, impaired function and disfigurement. New strategies for OC control are urgently needed to improve survival and quality of life for this often ignored, yet devastating disease. The key to controlling this disease is to develop strategies targeting more treatable precancerous stages, known as oral premalignant lesions (OPLs).

A new research project, funded by Genome BC and UBC Dentistry’s Oral Cancer Research Fund, aims to identify the markers that can predict the progression of OPLs which will supersede clinical and pathological tests. This innovative work aims to transform this marker into a clinically acceptable application that is timely and cost efficient.

“The brushing test, if successful, will provide a non-invasive indicator for the possibilities of oral cancer; this will not only give patients living with OPLs greater certainty but also a cost-effective approach in directing patients to the management plan with better outcomes,” says Dr. Catherine Poh, oral pathologist and Associate Professor at UBC; Clinician Scientist, Integrative Oncology and Cancer Control Research Program, BC Cancer Research Centre. “Ultimately, with early intervention, we can reduce the incidence of oral cancer and improve patients’ quality of life”.

The significance of this project is not only to BC but to Canada and globally. In the short term, the test can be used to triage patients diagnosed with low-grade lesions into a different follow-up schedule. For patients with high-grade lesions and oral cancer this non-invasive test can be used after treatment for monitoring and follow-up for early identification of recurrence. Dr. Poh and her team estimate that for each year this new test will benefit approximately 300 patients in BC referred through the BC Oral Biopsy Service.

“This is truly translational work that will have a significant contribution to oral cancer control,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “Dr. Poh’s work is just one of several projects that we are funding through these programs and each are equally innovative and important.”

Dr. Poh’s project, Development of a non-invasive, digital PCR-based molecular test for risk of oral cancer progression was funded through Genome BC’s Strategic Opportunities Fund (SOF) along with six other projects. One project is also being funded at this time through the Proof-of-Concept (POC) program. The other funded SOF and POC projects, lay summaries of which can be found on the Genome BC website, include:

Strategic Opportunities Fund:

  • Katherine S. Ryan (UBC): Development for a new antibiotic for MRSA
  • Tom Beatty (UBC) and John Madden (UBC): Using photosynthesis to harness the power of solar energy
  • Ryan Brinkman (UBC): Defining immune system cell populations in mice to better understand human immune disease
  • Michael Hart (SFU): Understanding how new sea star species arise
  • Chow Lee (UNBC): Researching the cancer-fighting properties in BC’s wild mushrooms
  • Matthew Lorincz (UBC): Optimization of a genome wide method that allows researchers to probe epigenetic phenomena from just a few hundred cells

Proof-of Concept:

  • Michel Roberge (UBC): Exploring the therapeutic potential of specific drugs for treatment of inherited genetic diseases.

In total these projects are valued at just over $2 million. The SOF and POC programs are competitive, peer-reviewed and include funding partners from the public and private sectors.


About Genome British Columbia:
Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $710M in 254 research projects and science and technology platforms. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. Genome BC is supported by the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada through Genome Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada and more than 300 international public and private co-funding partners.

Jennifer Boon
Communications Manager, Sectors
Genome BC
Mobile: 778-327-8374