Sri Lankan born, Professor Saman
Warnakulasuriya, who counts more than three decades in leading
research programs on cancer detection, including several oral
cancer population screening programs in high and low risk
countries, was honoured by the Queen with an Order of the
British Empire (OBE) title in Her Majesty’s New Year Honours
Prof. Warnakulasuriya resides in
Wallington, Surrey with his wife Ranjini and their daughter
"My research on cancer now focuses on
early detection, developing clinical tumour markers, laboratory
molecular and genetic markers to assess risk and prognosis and
risk modification", he said in an interview, shortly after
receiving the good news of an OBE honour.
"I have played an active role in
promoting the Mouth Cancer Awareness Week in the UK to improve
public awareness of the early signs and symptoms and major risk
factors", he noted.
The following are excerpts of his
interview with our London Correspondent Sujeeva Nivunhella:
Q: Where do you work now in the UK?
A: I am based at King's College,
London as Professor and Head of Oral Medicine. King’s is one of
the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London. I
was earlier a senior research fellow at the Royal College of
Surgeons in London. I served at the University of Peradeniya
from 1976-1990 and later as Professor of Oral Medicine.
Q: Where were you born and have your
I was born in Dodanduwa where I grew
up until my parents moved to Galle. I had my primary and
secondary education at Mahinda College, Galle. From Mahinda I
entered the University of Ceylon in 1965 and qualified as a
dental surgeon in 1969 with First Class Honours. I completed my
postgraduate education in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
I received my doctorate from the
University of Glasgow in 1976 for developing techniques to
measure replication human cells and observing differences in the
growth of cancer cells.
Q: Tell me about your services in Sri
Lanka after you returned with your Fellowship in Dental Surgery
from the Royal College of Surgeons and your Doctorate.
I lectured at the Dental School in
Peradeniya for 15 years, where I contributed to the delivery and
growth of dental education in Sri Lanka. My research was on the
early detection of mouth cancer and on disorders of the mouth
that later change to cancer. I contributed to the world
literature on the nomenclature, classification and
identification of disorders, called precancerous conditions.
In collaboration with the World Health Organization, I conducted
several innovative studies in Sri Lanka on screening and early
detection of mouth (oral) cancer using the primary health care
Q: Did you serve on any professional
organizations in Sri Lanka?
I was the secretary of the Sri Lanka
Cancer Society (Kandy Branch) for over 10 years and was the
founder President of the Sri Lanka Dental Association (Kandy
Q: What other awards have you
In 1989, I received the National Award
for Scientific Achievements from the Natural Resources, Energy &
Science Authority of Sri Lanka. It was presented by the Prime
Minister at Temple Tress. In 1990, I was the recipient of the
Johnson and Johnson international prize for the best community
oral health program awarded by the FDI World Dental Federation.
The University of Peradeniya awarded me an honorary DSc (Honoris
Causa) for my scientific achievements bringing distinction to my
Alma Mater. My DSc was awarded at the General Convocation of
the University of Peradeniya in March 2007.
Q: How would you describe your major
contributions to research on cancer?
I have over 30 years experience in
leading research programs on cancer detection, including several
oral cancer population screening programs in high and low risk
countries. I have acted as a visiting consultant to population
studies in many countries including Japan, India, Taiwan, and
Sudan. My cancer prevention activities have been to conduct
demonstration programs on habit interventions, particularly on
smoking cessation and health promotion on arecanut/betel quid
chewing. I have published widely on these topics, over 130
research papers have been contributed. A full supplement edited
by me on arecanut after a scientific conference in London
provided a wealth of information on this popular masticatory
substance and a habit of great antiquity.
My research on oral cancer in young
people conducted in South east in England is the largest
European study on risk habits in young people. Recently, I
mapped out the trends in population incidence and mortality from
oral cancer in the UK population from 1990-1999 and its regional
variations in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Q: What’s your reaction to being
honoured with an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British
I was delighted. This was in
recognition for my contribution to healthcare services in Great
Britain, for my national and international reputation in my
specialized field, for a distinguished career in cancer research
spanning over 35 years and for my leadership in international
scientific programs enhancing UK’s reputation.