Dental School

Oral Oncology

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The overall goal of the Oral Oncology Research Program is to enhance patient care by investigating novel approaches to early detection, diagnosis and management of oral cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions.

Oral Oncology

Program leader: Professor Camile S Farah

Program members: Dr Agnieszka Frydrych, Associate Professor Norman Firth, Dr Omar Kujan, Clinical Associate Professor Ramesh Balasubramaniam, Dr Simon Fox (Postdoctoral Research Fellow), Dr Kate Shearston (Research Lab Manager), Dr Maryam Jessri (Honorary Research Fellow), Ms Fatima Dost (Honorary Research Associate), Anima Poudal, Haytham El-Sakka

HDR Postgraduate students: Dr Katherine Pollaers,
DClinDent students: Dr Abdulhameed Husain,  Dr Amanda Phoon, Dr Qutaibah Alfadalah, Dr Lalima Tiwari
DMD students: Mr Luke Newman, Ms Sharon Little, Anjuli Kaney, Ashwati Ravindran, Behrooz Fateh, Dzikamai Hove, Gareth Huang, Ka Yeon Park, Kevin Kwork, Monisha Vijayan, Natasha Koelmeyer, Phil Au, Shixiong Tai, Xin Min Ang

Collaborators: Professor Michael McCullough (UMelb), Associate Professor Loc Do (ARCPOH), Professor Peter Friedland (SCGH), Dr Annette Lim (SCGH), Associate Professor Richard Allcock (UWA), Professor Alistair Forrest (Perkins), Associate Professor Roslyn Francis (SCGH), Professor Elizabeth Geelhoed (Population Health), Dr Phillip Melton (GOHAD), Professor Sook Bin Woo (Harvard), Dr Martin Batstone (RBWH), Dr Tim Iseli (RMH), Professor David Sampson (UWA Engineering), Dr Chady Sader (SCGH)

Funding Sources: Australian Dental Research Foundation, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Research Fund

Industry Partners: Olympus Australia, Agilent Technologies, Thermo Fisher Scientific

Research Program Objectives

The Oral Oncology Research Program has 5 main objectives and aims to:

  • Understand how oral cancer risk factors contribute to transformation of oral epithelial cells.
  • Evaluate clinical tools to improve early detection and diagnosis of pre-cancerous oral lesions.
  • Find a molecular signature for oral pre-cancer using molecular profiling techniques.
  • Isolate and characterize oral epithelial stem and cancer stem cells.
  • Undertake population-based epidemiological and clinical studies, particularly in high risk groups. 

Research Program Summary

The Oral Oncology Research Program undertakes cutting edge clinical and translational research into head and neck cancer early detection, molecular diagnostics and imaging, under the principle of “bed to benchside and back”.

The Oral Oncology Research Program leverages work regarding various bio-markers of head and neck cancer and oral epithelial dysplasia which are either unique to the oral mucosal situation or shared across malignancies in other sites. The program leverages a range of novel technologies, including Optical Fluorescence Imaging and Narrow Band Imaging, to enable diagnosis of oral cancer at its earliest stages, and to ascertain the molecular aspects of surgical margin delineation. The program also investigates the role that cancer stem cells play in the propagation and recurrence of cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions. The program has lead a large scale project undertaking exomic and transcriptomic profiling of head and neck cancers and precancers utilizing Next Generation Sequencing. The underlying premise of the program looks at creating a molecular signature for pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions that can be used as a molecular diagnostic or prognostic test to either replace or supplement standard histopathological interpretation of oral epithelial dysplasia and oral squamous cell carcinoma.

To complement the program's work on the biological mechanisms of oral cancer, the program has undertaken projects to examine oral pre-cancerous conditions at the population level.

The program is involved in molecular imaging particularly related to cancer diagnosis, and surgical margin delineation. It is interested in head and neck cancer staging and detection, assessment of sentinel lymph nodes, correlation of biomarkers for head and neck cancer and resection margins discovered through optical fluorescence imaging and narrow band imaging, and the development of druggable-molecular targets discovered through genome, exome and transcriptome-wide sequencing for possible radionuclide tracer development.

The work of the program is undertaken at the Australian Centre for Oral Oncology Research & Education (ACORE) currently housed within the School of Dentistry at the University of Western Australia. ACORE was established in an effort to leverage Professor Farah’s academic, clinical and industry partnerships for the advancement of oral oncology translational research, personalized patient care, patient and clinician education and professional development, and overall advocacy for patients with head and neck cancer.

This program has been funded by grants from the National Health & Medical Research Council, Cancer Australia, Cancer Council, Queensland Government Smart Futures Co-Investment Fund, Dental Board of Queensland, Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital Research Fund, Carrick Institute for Learning & Teaching in Higher Education, and Australian Dental Research Foundation. 

Current Research Projects

  • Exomic sequencing of oral cancer and precancerous lesions
  • Role of DNA damage repair genes in malignant transformation of oral potentially malignant lesions
  • Narrow Band Imaging for early detection and surgical margin delineation for oral cancer and precancerous lesions
  • Diagnostic and prognostic biomarker development in head and neck cancer
  • Predictive malignant transformation targeted biomarker panel for oral lichen planus
  • Progression of oral potentially malignant lesions is predicated on mutations in DNA repair genes
  • Expression of BRCA1/2 and associated genes in oral epithelial dysplasia
  • Genomic alterations of young patients with oral cancer
  • Progression from dysplasia to cancer
  • Single cell sequencing of oral cancer and oral mucosal tissues
  • Liquid based cytology
  • Optimal Coherence Tomography of oral cancer