Institute of Dentistry

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Oral cancer

Cancer of the head and neck is a significant cause of death and morbidity, and is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. Cancers of the oral region are a particularly important issue for our local population in East London where Asian men have a 4 fold greater risk of developing oral cancer than the general UK population. The Oral Cancer Research Group is one of the largest in the UK and forms an area of major investment for the Dental Institute. Through programs in basic science, translational, and public health research this Group addresses preventive and therapeutic patient needs generated by oral malignancy.

On-going major laboratory studies of head and neck cancers have pioneered elucidation of cellular processes associated with the early development of malignancy; the identification of early molecular changes of diagnostic significance; markers for cancer stem cells; determination of the mechanisms of local and distant spread of malignant cells; and, by understanding the mechanisms by which malignant cells evade killing, the design of more effective therapeutic regimes.

Research also focuses on the roles of telomeres in cell senescence and on the relationships between cancer development, cell senescence, and carcinoma-associated fibroblasts. The recently demonstrated dependency of patterns of malignant growth, treatment resistance and metastatic spread on a subpopulation of cancer stem cells present in oral cancers also forms a major research focus which now includes study of the roles of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in invasion and metastasis. The percentage of cells that express stem cell markers has been shown to be of predictive significance for lymph node metastasis. Based on earlier and on-going studies of patterns of gene expression in normal, premalignant and cancerous tissues, gene arrays have been developed that are able to distinguish normal, premalignant and malignant tissues; the translational importance of these methods is being further investigated. These studies are facilitated by established research.

Long-standing research and implementation programs in tobacco cessation are focused specifically at the unique public health issues in our locality. These activities provide a practical impact on health service delivery whilst addressing the most important area of risk factor management in both primary care and specialist dental practice. They are based on a previously CRUK-sponsored oral cancer awareness and screening program in the local population. They provide a community-based surveillance service for the early detection of oral cancer and a subsequent patient pathway to treatment in the Dental Hospital in Whitechapel.

Research Programmes

Clinical Biometrics

Programme in Keratinocyte Biology

Programme in Oral Oncology

Molecular Cancer Diagnosis & Personalised Medicine

The role of senescent fibroblasts in oral cancer and disease

Stem cell behaviour in head and neck cancers

REF highlights

Prof. Ian Mackenzie and Dr. Adrian Biddle have together published a series of papers reporting the properties of cancer stem cells in head and neck cancers, including the roles of epithelial-mesenchymal transition in metastasis and therapy resistance, the roles of stromal cytokines and hypoxia in inducing EMT, changes of cell drug resistance associated with phenotypic plasticity, and the roles of CD44 in controlling cancer stem cell phenotypes.

Dr. Adrian Biddle was awarded a David Sainsbury 3-year Research Fellowship by the NC3Rs.

Prof. Ken Parkinson has reported several interesting findings concerning influences of the tumour microenvironment and cellular senescence on malignant cell behaviour.

Dr. Teck Teh  has demonstrated important roles of the FOXM1 gene in cancer cell behaviour. In particular, his paper on the relationship of nicotine to FOXM1 during malignant transformation attracted major public interest.

Dr. Hong Wan has disclosed regulatory interactions between Desmoglein 3 and E-cadherin that have signaling properties are related to downstream influences on the Src oncogene.

Dr. Ahmed Waseem has demonstrated functional influences of cytokeratin 17 on cell behaviour in submucous fibrosis 15 and elucidated mechanisms regulating cytokeratin 15 expression.

Dr. Shahid Chaudhry, a member of the clinical faculty, has reported the mechanisms of interleukin and TNF╬▒ signaling in the stimulation of malignant invasion.


Professor Ian Mackenzie


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