New research centre unites disciplines to fight cancer

Pancreatic and other forms of cancer could be treated more successfully following the establishment of a new UK research centre that brings together experts from different scientific disciplines.

research centre
Tumour-promoting (pink) and tumour-suppressing (blue) immune cells being tracked using new technology (Image: Cancer Research UK)

One project at the £13m Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research and Imperial College London will investigate ultrasound to develop a treatment that can liquefy cancer cells in the body using microscopic bubbles without the need for invasive surgery.

Cancer Research UK is bringing together scientists under the leadership of cancer experts, Prof Paul Workman from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Prof the Lord Ara Darzi from Imperial College London.

According to Cancer Research UK, their shared vision for a centre dedicated to convergence science integrates the knowledge, methods and expertise from disciplines including engineering, physics, data science, biological sciences and 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 biologists, physicists, engineers and clinicians are exploring whether histotripsy – a specialised therapeutic version of ultrasound – could be adapted to destroy pancreatic tumours located deep within the body.

Tightly focused, high-frequency sound waves will be used 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 naturally.

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 until all cancerous tissue is destroyed.

Prof 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.”

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