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MUHC/McGill Ocular Pathology Laboratory celebrates a decade of progress

Montreal, May 6, 2010 The Burnier International Ocular Pathology Society is holding a Scientific Colloquium in Montreal today to mark the tenth anniversary of the McGill University Health Centre's Henry C. Witelson Ocular Pathology Laboratory. The lab is an internationally reputed centre for the study and treatment of eye diseases and is leading a global network for the sharing of healthcare knowledge and expertise. The three-day colloquium consists of a gala banquet and a conference that includes the establishment of several Ophthalmology Fellowships. These fellowships will support the development of future leaders in this field.

"Over the past decade we have trained 126 people, published over 300 scientific publications, given over 200 presentations and perhaps most importantly treated over 10,000 patients," says Dr. Miguel Burnier, Director of the Henry C. Witelson Ocular Pathology Laboratory. The lab is amongst the world's largest and most productive centres for research, treatment and training in ocular diseases, and was one of the first to specialize in this area. "It's been a voyage of scientific discovery," he added.

The lab investigates the mechanisms underlying many ocular diseases, including retinoblastoma, age-related macular degeneration, and ocular toxoplasmosis. But the ultimate objective has been their search for a cure for ocular cancer, also known as uveal melanoma. The disease is rare only about 60 people in Quebec develop the disease each year but almost half of those diagnosed die, making it one of the most lethal cancers. The reason is that ocular cancer has the ability to spread rapidly to other organs, particularly the liver where it is often diagnosed. At this point, it is usually too late to save the patient. Dr. Burnier's army of graduate students, Fellows and post-docs numbering 20 at the last count, are investigating how cancer cells spread, which may have an impact on a range of other diseases.

Thanks to great strides in telemedicine over the past decade, the Henry C. Witelson Ocular Pathology Laboratory has also become a referral centre for physicians and researchers worldwide. The centre is linked to labs in 24 countries around the world, from as far afield as the UK, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, USA and Saudi Arabia. Many of the people that operate these labs are former students of Dr. Burnier's, who studied at McGill and the MUHC. The team in Montreal now shares knowledge worldwide and hopes to push the bounds of research and clinical care for decades to come.


Contact: Rebecca Burns
McGill University

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