2020 Funded Projects

CFDHRE Peer Reviewed Grant

Denise Laronde
Associate Professor, Faculty of Dentistry, University of British Columba

Project Title:

Oral dysplasia and immune cell spatial relationships: potential indicators of malignant progression

Principal Applicant

Denise Laronde, RDH, DipDH, MSc, PhD
Acting Director, BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program; Associate Professor
Faculty of Dentistry, University of British Columbia


Iris Lin, RDH, BDSc
Doctoral Student, Doctor of Philosophy in Craniofacial Science
Faculty of Dentistry, University of British Columbia

Leigha Rock, RDH, BDSc, PhD
Assistant Professor, Director of Dental Hygiene
School of Dental Hygiene, Dalhousie University




Problem Statement
Cancer is complex, comprised of a heterogenous mix of interacting components. This includes immune cells, which have been used as a predictor of outcome in cancer patients. However, less research has applied these prognostic factors in precancerous conditions, such as oral epithelial dysplasia (OED).

The objective of this study is to analyze the immune microenvironment in OED and to determine whether immune cell density and cell-cell spatial patterns are associated with malignant progression.

The project will use data and samples collected from subjects enrolled in a prospective study conducted in British Columbia that has recruited over 600 patients with OED. Cases of OED with subsequent progression to cancer, and controls with no subsequent progression will be used. Patients with a baseline biopsy showing low-grade OED, no history of oral cancer, and at least 5 years of follow-up were eligible.

Immune cells will be visualized using immunohistochemistry, and computationally identified by applying a thresholding algorithm to identify positivity/negativity of biomarker staining. OED tissue architecture and cell-cell contacts will be mapped, and immune cell densities and mean frequencies of specific cell-cell relationships expressed as fractions. Statistical analysis will be used to assess and compare whether density or cell-cell spatial relationships are associated with the risk of malignant progression.

This information has the potential for tremendous clinical utility; if lesions with a greater risk of progression to cancer can be identified at an early stage, treatment efforts can be aimed at prevention, ultimately improving patient survival and health care system efficiency.