Tumour-promoting (pink) and tumour-suppressing (blue) immune cells being tracked using new technology
Scientists are re-imagining ultrasound technology to develop a treatment that can liquefy cancer cells in the body using microscopic bubbles – without the need for invasive surgery – as part of the new £13 million Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research and Imperial College London, announced today (Monday).
Cancer Research UK is bringing together scientists from two of the UK’s foremost academic research institutions under the leadership of renowned cancer experts, Professor Paul Workman from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Professor the Lord Ara Darzi from Imperial College London.
Their shared vision for a centre dedicated to convergence science integrates the knowledge, methods and expertise from different scientific disciplines – from physics to data science, and from engineering and the biological sciences to medicine. This will enable teams at the Centre to work together in completely new ways, to speed up scientific discovery and innovation for people with cancer and create new treatments and technologies.
In one project at the Centre, a team of biologists, physicists, engineers and clinicians are exploring whether a specialised therapeutic version of ultrasound, called histotripsy, could be adapted to destroy pancreatic tumours located deep within the body.
The team will use tightly focused, high-frequency sound waves to target and break apart cancer cells with the help of microbubbles. The sound waves cause the microbubbles to expand and contract rapidly, putting a strain on the cancer cell and breaking it apart into harmless fragments to be reabsorbed into the body and expelled through natural processes.
The researchers hope that by using this technology, the size of a tumour could be gradually reduced as they move the focal point of the sound waves around, like chipping away at it with a tiny hammer, until all cancerous tissue is destroyed.
In another project, researchers are fine-tuning a technique, originally developed to explore autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, to look at the activation of immune cells within a tumour in real-time.
Cancer experts and bioinformaticians are working together to investigate how the delicate balance between tumour-killing and tumour-promoting immune cells can tip as cancer evolves. It is hoped that this technology could be used to gain a better understanding of why immunotherapies work for some patients but not others.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Although we are making great strides in the treatment of some cancers, survival remains stubbornly low for others, such as pancreatic cancer. If we are to make any real progress for patients, we need to take a bolder and more creative approach to research.
“By opening new avenues for collaboration, we can bring in fresh ideas from outside the traditional cancer research space. This convergence will allow us to tackle research challenges from completely different angles, so we can scale the hurdles that have prevented treatment breakthroughs in the past, and secure a future for more people with cancer.”
Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Director of the Convergence Science Centre, said: “It’s fantastic to think that microbubbles could be used to blow cancer cells apart, and this is just one example of the exciting innovation we expect to see within the new Convergence Science Centre.
“Our new Centre will be a coming together of world-class researchers in fields such as engineering, physics, chemistry and AI, collaborating closely with outstanding biologists and clinicians to create new solutions to the critical challenges we face in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. It will open exciting new frontiers in cancer research and lead to innovative treatments, tests and technologies for patients.
“With Cancer Research UK’s support, we have brought together two world-leading research organisations with complementary areas of expertise, building a vibrant collaborative culture that will nurture a new generation of truly multidisciplinary cancer researchers.”
Professor the Lord Ara Darzi, Director of Imperial College London’s Cancer Research Centre, said: “Through this new centre and the training opportunities it presents, we will instil the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration into tomorrow’s researchers. Data science, physics and engineering are already transforming the way we treat cancer; integrating the expertise and knowledge of these disciplines is key to future-proofing our important work.
“By creating a new generation of convergent scientists, we’re opening the door to new tools, devices and algorithms that we could never have imagined before. The combined strength of our two world leading institutions will set the standard for the future of convergence science, to transform cancer research in the UK and across the world.”
Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor for Business, said: “London is a world-leading centre for life sciences with a rich ecosystem that has been at the very forefront of medical discovery and innovation for hundreds of years.
“I am very pleased that we can now add the Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre to the list of groundbreaking scientific initiatives in the capital.”
Cancer Research UK’s network of centres brings together leading research teams from universities, NHS hospitals, and other research organisations to combine expertise in different cancer types and initiate new research ideas and programmes. Centre status is awarded to locations performing the highest quality cancer research. Cancer Research UK’s investment helps maintain and develop essential infrastructure, funding for technical staff, equipment, training and running costs.
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world’s most influential cancer research organisations.
Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, The ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top centres for cancer research and treatment globally.
The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it is a world leader at identifying cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.
A college of the University of London, The ICR is the UK’s top-ranked academic institution for research quality, and provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.
The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit http://www.icr.ac.uk
Imperial College London is one of the world’s leading universities. The College’s 17,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for our society.
Imperial is the UK’s most international university, according to Times Higher Education, with academic ties to more than 150 countries. Reuters named the College as the UK’s most innovative university because of its exceptional entrepreneurial culture and ties to industry.
About Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
- Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
- Cancer Research UK receives no funding from the UK government for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on vital donations from the public.
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
- Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.