Convergence science centre accelerates development of innovative cancer therapies

Convergence science centre accelerates development of innovative cancer therapies

Tumour-promoting pink and tumour-suppressing blue immune cells being tracked using newly developed technology. Courtesy: Masahiro Ono

The new £ million Cancer Research UK Convergence Science Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research ICR and Imperial College London brings together researchers from different scientific disciplines to develop a range of innovative cancer treatment techniques.

Under the leadership of cancer experts Paul Workman from the ICR and Lord Ara Darzi from Imperial, the centre integrates knowledge, methods and expertise from disciplines ranging from physics to data science and AI, and from engineering and biological sciences to medicine.

​In one project, a team of biologists, physicists, engineers and clinicians are exploring whether histotripsy, a therapeutic ultrasound technique, could be adapted to destroy pancreatic tumours located deep within the body.

​The researchers will use highly focused ultrasound to target and break apart cancer cells with the help of microbubbles. The ultrasound waves cause the microbubbles to expand and contract rapidly, putting a strain on the cancer cell and breaking it apart into harmless fragments that are reabsorbed into the body and expelled via natural processes.

“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,” says Workman. “Our new centre will open exciting new frontiers in cancer research and lead to innovative treatments, tests and technologies for patients.”

“Although we are making great strides in the treatment of some cancers, survival remains stubbornly low for others, such as pancreatic cancer,” adds Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. “If we are to make any real progress for patients, we need to take a bolder and more creative approach to research.”

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.

“Through this new centre and the training opportunities it presents, we will instil the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration into tomorrow’s researchers,” says Darzi. “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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