Oral Cancer Screening Technology Makes Big Impact on Underserved Community

Story courtesy of Ethan Perez, UCI Beall Applied Innovation

Oral health took the main stage at a recent event at Concorde College celebrating the community partnership between the Concorde College of Dental Hygiene and Dr. Petra Wilder-Smith and her team from UC Irvine Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic (BLIMC).

Among the guests were Robynn Zender, community health research representative at the UCI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS); Dr. Wilder-Smith, director of dentistry at UCI BLIMC and professor of surgery at the UCI School of Medicine; former Sen. Janet Nguyen of the 34th district, who regularly supports health clinics hosted by Concorde College; and Dr. Arezou Goshtasbi, director of dental hygiene at Concorde College.

Held at the Garden Grove campus, the collaboration was part of a grant funded by the ICTS with which Wilder-Smith and her team developed a nonsurgical approach to identify oral cancer risk and progression in underserved populations. To achieve this, Wilder-Smith and team used advanced imaging technologies and leveraged the students and facilities at Concorde College to provide free oral cancer screenings to patients at the college’s health clinics.

In addition to screening thousands of patients and identifying those with or at high risk of developing oral cancer, Concorde College has – as a result of this collaboration – expanded its oral cancer curriculum to better prepare the next generation of hygienists for recognizing patients with oral cancer or pre-oral cancer.

“The partnership gave our students the opportunity to be more engaged in research and the importance of collaborating with other health care providers,” said Cherie Wink, instructor of dental hygiene at Concorde College and colleague of Wilder-Smith. “It was a great opportunity to be part of something that could potentially save lives.”

Wilder-Smith, who has made a career of using optics and photonics technologies to improve oral health and who has several patents to her name through UCI Beall Applied Innovation, praised the partnership’s role in helping pre-dental students at UCI.

“Working with Concorde has really added to the pre-dental experience for our students,” said Wilder-Smith. “We don’t have a dental school at UCI so the pre-dental students have to find their own way to make connections to clinical dentistry. Concorde works together with both our dental societies and makes sure the students get pre-clinical experience in helping at free clinics. I think it’s a big deal because it gets them set on the path of volunteering, of doing something for the community.”

The visit included a demonstration of the device used at the free screenings, allowing contributors and supporters to see the culmination of everyone’s hard work.

“I see the proposal, I see the reviews, we give them the money, I talk with them on the phone and I hear Petra talk about the work that she’s doing,” said Zender, who facilitated the funding of the collaboration. “But to actually come here and see the actual devices in action … it’s really rewarding.”

Learn more about UCI BLIMC’s vision of moving innovative technologies from “laboratory benchtop to patient bedside.”

Read full article in UCI Beall Applied Innovation Making Waves.

Pictured (from left to right): Kairong Lin, Robynn Zender, Dr. Petra Wilder-Smith, former Sen. Janet Nguyen, Dr. Arezou Goshtasbi, and Ryan Cheung.