Top CIHR scholarship cinched by PhD student

Leigha Rock, a Craniofacial Science doctoral candidate, won a Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Award. Rock is now one of only a handful of doctoral students from the Faculty of Dentistry who, over the years, have garnered the prestigious scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Leigha Rock

Rock’s research aims to predict cancer risk in oral premalignant lesions. Specifically, she is investigating genomic markers and changes in clinicopathological features over time, toward predicting malignant transformation of low-grade oral dysplasia.

Now in her third year, her project will build on findings by a research group from the BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program at the BC Cancer Agency, which has developed the only validated molecular marker for progression. This marker categorizes low-grade lesions into groups at low, medium and high risk for progression to cancer. The search for additional markers is important and has the potential to impact prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

This CIHR doctoral scholarship award is substantial at $105,000 over three years. Competition for these nation-wide awards is stiff across all the health disciplines–the majority have typically gone to medicine researchers. Rock placed in the top 0.43 percent of all applicants. This, according to UBC Dentistry’s grant department, is the highest ranking achieved by any doctoral student in the Faculty in the last 30 years.

Rock attributes her success in winning the scholarship to “the outstanding support I am receiving from my supervisor, my committee and the Faculty.” She is supervised by Dr. Denise Laronde, associate professor in the Department of Oral Biological & Medical Sciences. Dr. Miriam Rosin, senior scientist at the BC Cancer Agency, and Drs. Lewei Zhang and Batoul Shariati from the Faculty of Dentistry are also members of Rock’s PhD thesis committee.