It’s a long way from Saskatchewan (where I grew up) to British Columbia, especially if you took the route I did, through the Philippines, Uzbekistan, India and Egypt.
My first overseas work was in the Philippines, where I slept on a mat in one of those thatched houses on the side of a mountain in a terraced rice field. My group at the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre was among the first to go overseas to look for ways to identify people at high risk and plan interventions.
I swabbed the cheeks of the residents there, collecting the cells needed for research, as chickens and dogs brushed over my feet with the whole village looking on. I took a tiny, frail helicopter into even less accessible areas fraught with guerilla activity. I subsequently went to fishing villages in southern India, nomadic camps in Uzbekistan, oases in Egypt, and then to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to learn the molecular tools now driving the research at the BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program (BC OCPP).
After Johns Hopkins, I partnered with Lewei Zhang, the brilliant pathologist at the BC Oral Biopsy Service. Through the years, the program has been fortunate to associate many equally-brilliant scientists, clinicians and technicians to our team – they come from many different disciplines, each adding a unique perspective to the work we do in B.C.
Our research takes us to community dental practices, to empower this frontline defense against the disease through early detection. It takes us to high-risk clinics, to ensure that interventions are applied where they are most needed. Research takes us to referral clinics and treatment centres for better management. And finally, research takes us to the laboratory, where the interaction between scientists and clinicians has led to the creation of new devices and the ability to identify high-risk individuals before cancer develops.
Working together, the BC Cancer Agency has become a global leader in pioneering unique changes that can impact patient’s destinies. We are now engaged in training the next generation of warriors to work as a team in these arenas.
Over the next several weeks, you will hear from my colleagues in the BC OCPP team – they will share their stories of discovery from the research lab and the clinic. We are engaged in a race against a terrible disease, but with research—and the generous support of our most essential partners, BC Cancer Foundation donors—we are winning.
BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program Team:
Back Row L-R: Jade Lavallee, Marco Wu, Ajit Auluck, Ivan Sun, Jelena Prelec, Tarinee Lubpairee, Catherine Kang
Front Row L-R: Huijun Jiang, Lewei Zhang, Miriam Rosin, Denise Laronde, Leigha Rock