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UBC researchers to lead $4.7-million study on early-stage oral cancer

Researchers from the University of British Columbia's Faculties of Medicine, Science and Dentistry are leading a $4.7-million pan-Canadian clinical trial aimed at improving outcomes for patients undergoing surgery for oral squamous cell cancers.

Funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute, the Canadian Optically Guided Approach for Oral Lesions Surgical Trial, or COOLS Study, involves universities and hospitals in nine Canadian cities. Findings from the study could revolutionize clinical practice here and around the world.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 3,400 Canadians are diagnosed with oral cancer every year. In 2010, the estimated number of deaths due to oral cancer was 1,150. Currently, about 30 per cent of patients who receive oral surgery have their cancer recur. The COOLS Study will investigate the effectiveness of a fluorescence visualization, or "blue light," to distinguish between healthy tissues from tumours or pre-cancerous cells in the mouth. Under the blue light, normal tissue generates a fluorescence which is absent in tumour or pre-cancerous tissue.

"In work we've conducted to date in Vancouver, there has been almost no recurrence where surgery followed the contour of the lesion shown by using FV-guided surgery. Working together with surgeons, pathologists, research staff and scientists, this TFRI-funded study will enable us to test the approach on a broader cohort of patients at sites across the country and obtain the evidence required to change current practice." says principal investigator Dr. Catherine Poh, a senior scientist with BC Cancer Agency, an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Dentistry and a consulting dentist at Vancouver General Hospital.

"Our surgical community has expressed great interest in participating in this trial which provides an unique and important opportunity to assess a surgical intervention in a controlled prospective manner across many sites," says principal investigator Dr. Scott Durham, head of the division of otolaryngology at Vancouver General Hospital and a clinical professor at UBC's Faculty of Medicine. The study aims to build a network of clinicians, pathologists and research staff across the country to fight oral cancer.

"This study will have an immediate impact on practice if the study turns out the way we hope," says principal Investigator Dr. Miriam Rosin, a senior scientist with the BC Cancer Agency who holds joint appointments at UBC and Simon Fraser University. "If the study is successful, it will help to reduce the number of deaths from oral cancer as well as to improve the quality of life for people living with this disease. Working with scientists, we will have this new approach ready to disseminate to the surgical community at large and even globally."

The study's lead investigators also include Calum Macaulay, a clinical associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Medicine and an associate member in Medical Physics in the UBC Faculty of Science; and Stuart Peacock, an associate professor at UBC's School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine.


Contact: Brian Lin
University of British Columbia

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