Malaysian Oral Cancer Research
Cancers are caused by the genetic changes in cells. When those particular genetic changes are identified, novel drugs can be developed for treatment. The use of such drugs, also referred as targeted therapy, kills cancer cell specifically and therefore works effectively without harming normal cells in our body. Notably, targeted therapy has been used successfully to treat many types of cancer. However, the majority of these drugs have been developed only against breast cancer, colon cancer and lymphomas, and there remains a gap in the development of targeted therapy particularly against “Asian Cancers” such as oral cancer. Hence, the identification of genetic changes specific to oral cancer cells is very crucial because it affords an opportunity to use this information for the development of drugs to treat this disease.
The development of biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment of cancer requires an understanding of how these genes cause cancer. CARIF has established the largest panel of Asian oral cancer cell lines. These cancer cell lines are essential because the development of biomarkers for diagnosis and treatment of cancer requires an understanding of how these genes cause cancer. In fact, these cell lines were developed from Malaysian patients and thus make good models to study oral cancer in the laboratory. Although these models closely represent the cancers in our patients, a complete understanding of cancer development also requires animal models of cancer. In particular, animal models are important in developing and testing novel drugs for cancer treatment and are crucial to ensure that the biomarkers and therapeutic targets that we work on can be developed further to benefit our patients.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the translation of all this knowledge to clinical practice is a main focus of our group. It is well established that specific gene changes (also called gene signatures) can help identify individuals from suffering the cancer. However, the development of such gene signatures has hitherto been concentrated on breast and lung cancers and is currently lacking for oral cancer. In CARIF, we are using new technologies and statistical prediction models to identify the genes important for oral cancer, where it is helpful in identifying high risk individuals who will eventually develop oral cancer; those who will do better than others and importantly, match patients to the type of therapy that would benefit them the most. Collectively, the use of gene signatures will help manage patients better by identifying them early and ensuring that they receive appropriate treatments. In summary, the overall objectives of the Oral Cancer Research are as below:
- To identify genetic changes that promote oral cancer development
- To use laboratory and animal models to understand how these genetic changes promote cancer development
- To develop targeted therapy for treatment of oral cancer
- To develop biomarkers and gene signatures for early diagnosis and prognosis of oral cancer