Search impact stories
Video Content: 
May 2014

Beating oral cancer with Mitacs research

At a glance
The challenge

Oral cancer has few symptoms thus often undiagnosed

The solution

A new way to identify pre-cancerous oral lesions

The outcome

An improved diagnostic testing tool able to identify problematic lesions with 90% accuracy

What's next?

Commercialize test and launch in Canada and Europe

Early stage oral cancer has very few symptoms and so it often goes undiagnosed, until it advances to stages that are difficult to treat. The mortality rate is 50% within five years and even when successfully treated by surgery, surviving patients are often left severely disfigured with compromised speech and eating capabilities.

By diagnosing oral premalignant lesions that might progress to cancer and making better clinical decisions, clinicians can significantly lower the mortality rate, increase quality of life with earlier and less traumatic surgery and reduce healthcare costs.

Toronto-based ProteoCyte Diagnostics Inc. developed a new diagnostic testing system, StraticyteTM, which can accurately and objectively identify premalignant oral lesions that have a high risk of becoming cancerous, allowing patients to undergo early treatment to ensure survival and improved quality of life.

The company sought academic research expertise in statistics, and through Mitacs Business Development Director Rebecca Bourque, was matched with Akram Alyass, a Masters student in Statistics from McMaster University, and his supervisor, Professor Lehana Thabane.

Akram’s research focused on analyzing different variables and biomarkers within oral lesions discovered by Proteocyte to be associated with the progression of cancer.  He then came up with different mathematical models to determine the likelihood of a lesion becoming cancerous.

“We receive from pathology labs a biopsy of the lesion and based on the presence and location of the biomarkers we can compute a risk score from 0 to 100 which will classify the patient as having a high, medium or low risk of it progressing to cancer over the next five years.”

“For the high risk group, clinicians can remove the lesion during its early stages and then provide regular monitoring.  The model also minimizes the number of false negatives in the lowest group, to provide clinicians and their patients peace of mind.”

Mario Thomas, Chief Commercialization Officer at ProteoCyte, said the statistical modeling done by Akram has allowed them to commercialize the prognostic test, which will launch in Canada during 2014 and then in the US and Europe in 2015.

“This is a breakthrough for oral cancer patients.  We are now able to determine with 90% predictive value whether premalignant oral lesions are likely to progress to cancer.” 

“It is the first molecular diagnostic test of its type, providing better patient outcomes and major savings for the healthcare system.  The efficient model developed with the help of our Mitacs intern has saved us months of statistical work.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: