NCITA: a new consortium on cancer imaging

Cancer imaging is an umbrella term that defines diagnostic procedures to identify cancer through imaging – such as scans via x-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds. There is no single imaging test that can accurately diagnose cancer, but a variety of imaging tests can be used in the monitoring of cancer and planning of its treatments.

What is NCITA?

NCITA – the UK National Cancer Imaging Translational Accelerator – is a new consortium that brings together world leading medical imaging experts to create an infrastructure for standardising the cancer imaging process, in order to improve its application in clinical cancer treatment.

Research and medical experts from the University of Oxford have come together with UCL, University of Manchester, the Institute of Cancer Research, Imperial, Cambridge University and many more to create this open access platform.

How will NCITA help cancer research?

On top of bringing together leading experts in cancer imaging to share their knowledge, the NCITA consortium will create a variety of systems, software and facilities to help localise and distribute new research and create a centralised location for cancer-image data to be analysed.

NCITA will in include a data repository for imaging, artificial intelligence (AI) tools and training opportunities – all of which will contributing to a revolution in the speed and accuracy of cancer diagnosis, tumour classification and patient response to treatment.

The NCITA network is led by Prof Shonit Punwani, Prof James O’Connor, Prof Eric Aboagye, Prof Geoff Higgins, Prof Evis Sala, Prof Dow Mu Koh, Prof Tony Ng, Prof Hing Leung and Prof Ruth Plummer with up to 49 co-investigators supporting the NCITA initiative.  NCITA is keen to expand and bring in new academic and industrial partnerships as it develops.

Go to the NCITA website to stay up to date of news about cancer imaging research.

For more information on this exciting new initiative, see the media release about the NCITA launch here.

What is a clinical trial? – new video series

Discover what it means to take part in a cancer treatment clinical trial with this new video series

The Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit (EPCTU) is a specialist unit that supports the transition of cancer research findings into clinical applications for helping treat cancer.

The unit integrates oncology and haematology findings and applies them through clinical trials, with around 150 patients per year recruited into novel cancer therapies. By taking part in the clinical trials, the patients help to contribute to discovering new, more efficient or patient-focused treatments for their type of cancer in the future.

What should I expect?

When a patient is referred to EPCTU, they are often given a lot of information about what it means to be involved in the clinical trial process. This information can often be over-whelming, and in response to a patient satisfaction survey, the EPCTU created the following video series so that patients can better understand the process and how clinical trials effect their daily lives.

Video 1 – before the trial

The first video below touches on the aspects that influence a patient’s consideration in taking part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials deal with new, innovative treatments, and as such, are part of a clinical learning curve.

The video below touches on topics such as time frames and how you can expect to receive information. It’s important to give clinical trials proper consideration and understand what will happen at every stage, before reaching the later screening and eligibility process.



Video 2 – taking part

The second video is about what to expect after the screening process, once a patient has been recruited onto the trial.

Clinical trials can take a long time, both in the treatment process and the requirements later down the line after treatment. The second video in the series, seen below, outlines what to expect once you are on a trial and the benefits of seeing the trial to the very end.


Video 3 – trials at the EPCTU

The final video of the series, coming soon, will explain further about the EPCTU and the facilities in the centre.

It is designed for new patients to find the unit’s location and know where to find everything that they will need during the trial process.

Be sure to check back to our website homepage or this news article to see the final video in the series.

AI research discovers link between smell genes and colon cancer

Research from Dr Heba Sailem, recently published in Molecular Systems Biology, showed that patients with specific smell-sensing genes ‘turned on’ are more likely to have worse colon cancer outcomes.

Through the development of a machine-learning approach to analyse the perturbation of over 18,000 genes, Dr Sailem and her team found that olfactory receptor gene expression may have some effect on the way that colon cancer cells are structured.

Dr Sailem used layers of Artificial Intelligence (AI), including computer algorithms, to detect the changes of cancer cell appearance and organisation when the genes are turned down using siRNA technology. AI played a crucial part of this research, as it allowed for speed and efficient analysis and mapping of cell image data to various gene functions that were studied, which greatly increase the amount of information that can be extracted and reduced human error.

Dr Sailem surveyed over 18,000 genes and found that specific smell-sensing genes called olfactory receptor genes are strongly associated with how colon cancer cells spread and align with each other akin to the changes induced by turning down key colon cancer genes.

The practical patient implications of this research include how we might approach patients with colon cancer, depending on their genetic makeup. In the long run, Dr Sailem hopes that these findings will allow clinicians to survey patient genes, create specific predictions based on their genetics and create tailored treatments to best treat their cancer.

There is already a large body of research into the genes that influence the structure of cancer tissues, but studies such as this might help to find new target genes. For example, by reducing the expression of olfactory genes, we could potentially inhibit cancer cells from spreading and eventually invading other tissues which is the major cause of cancer death

About the Author

Dr Heba Sailem is a Sir Henry Wellcome Research Fellow at the Big Data Institute and Institute of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford. Her research is focused on developing intelligent systems that help further biological discoveries in the field of cancer.

This paper is a result of three years of work, focusing on identifying the role of genetic expression on the spread and management of colon cancer.

Future research

Following this research Dr Sailem hopes to apply this AI approach to a wider range of cancer, to see what genes are associated with and influence cancer tissue structure, proliferation and motility.

For more information about this research, see Dr Heba Sailem’s paper here.

NDORMS win cancer research awards


Nuffield Department of Orthopadics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) supports multi-disciplinary research into the causes of musculoskeletal and inflammatory conditions, in order to improve people’s quality of life. Based within the Medical Science Division of Oxford University, NDORMS collaborates with many leading research units, particularly in the field of cancer research, to develop new and innovative ways to tackle cancer and its treatment.

Three awards have been given to NDORMS researchers for their work on cancer and its treatment. The awards include grant funding to further their work, which you can find out more about below.

Meet the winners

Audrey Gerard has been awarded the CRUK Immunology Project Award, for her research into mechanisms that inhibit anti-tumour immunity. So far, her research has had great success in the application of treating aggressive cancers, but stimulating the body’s own immune system to remove cancer cells.

This award hopes to further her research, hand help to determine if there are other aspects restricting tumour immunity that can be exploited.

Anjal Kusumble, Richard Williams and Felix Clanchy have been awarded the CRUK Early Detection Primer Award for their work on Ewing’s Sarcoma – a highly malignant tumour of the bone or surrounding tissue. This cancer is particularly hard to treat due to the difficulty of identifying and diagnosing it.

The team’s work into improving early detection of Ewing’s Sarcoma and its spread through the body has shown great promise in identifying potential relapses. The award will provide the funding needed to consolidate previous work and find new solutions to tackle the disease.

Alex Clark has been awarded the Cancer Immunology grant to support his exploration of how metabolic processes in B cells promote autoimmunity and lymphoma. The aim of this project is to find a way to interfere with the important pathways needed for cells to create amino acids – the building blocks for cell and cancer cell growth.

This work may pave the way for new treatment approaches which can be applied to diseases such as lymphoma.

New MSc in Precision Cancer Medicine

Cancer Researchers at the University of Oxford have launched a two-year, part-time, online course in Precision Cancer Medicine. The new course is an exciting opportunity for professionals from across the research, clinical and medical spheres to learn more about how to make precision medicine a reality.

About precision medicine

Precision medicine is a novel approach to patient care, which allows medical professionals to select specific treatments that are most likely to help with their cancer.

It considers the genetics of the cancer, the patient’s biology, environment and lifestyle, in order to guide disease diagnosis and treatment. It is also known as personalised or tailored treatment.

Most cancer treatments take a ‘one-size fits all’ approach, such as using chemotherapy drugs across the whole body to kill cancerous cells. Often these drugs do not differentiate between cancer and non-cancer cells in the body, which may cause unpleasant side effects that can have long-lasting implications.

By creating tailored treatments that target the specific cancer cells we can improve patient experiences of cancer treatment and reduce these side effects.

About the course

The new Masters course hopes to equip graduates with a multi-disciplinary understanding, beyond their own area of expertise, and prepare them for roles at the forefront of cancer medicine.

It will touch on areas such as cancer genomics, pathology, omics techniques, diagnostics, experimental therapeutics, onco-immunology, bioinformatics, ethics and health economics.

For more information about the course, see here.

Oxford Pancreatic Network Launch

As November 21st marks World Pancreatic Cancer Day, Oxford clinicians and scientists are uniting in the fight against the world’s toughest cancer. To launch this, Oxford clinicians and scientists met for the first Oxford Pancreatic Network meeting on Tuesday 19th November, organised by Dr Rachael Bashford-Rogers (WTCHG) and Dr Shivan Sivakumar (Oncology, KIR and pancreatic cancer oncologist) in collaboration with the CRUK Cancer Oxford Centre.

Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival of any human cancer. This is a tumour that has minimal response to conventional treatment and is extremely aggressive. The disease course is silent and is picked up mainly when incurable. To tackle this clinical need, we are bringing together experimental, clinical and statistical expertise from Oxford’s scientific community to investigate the microenvironment across multiple pancreatic pathologies and to plan new approaches to treatment strategies for improving patient outcome.

This pioneering proposal of the study of cause and effect of pancreatic disease, ranging from pancreatic cancer and pre-cancerous lesions to pancreatitis, immune-related diseases, type 1 and 2 diabetes, will be achieved through the integration of state-of-the-art technologies, underpinned by strong bioinformatics and functional studies. The aim of the work is to truly understand the pancreas and how it causes such significant but varying diseases. Helping us understand this may truly help us unlock the potential to treat pancreatic cancer.

This work will use knowledge gained from cross-pancreatic diseases to:
• understand which cells are able to enter the pancreatic micro-environment and their functions
• the modes of anti-tumour/auto-reactive activity
• strategies for early detection
• effect of current therapies/toxicities
• develop models of how to modulate the function and pancreatic infiltration of cells
• to direct us towards more targeted therapies across pancreatic diseases, such as through novel immunotherapies, and developing new clinical trials

Through this new partnership of expertise, we aim to build a new strategy to make an impact in the treatment of these pancreatic diseases.

Breast cancer awareness month

Sir Peter Ratcliffe Awarded Nobel Prize

Three scientists who discovered how cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels, including Oxford’s Sir Peter Ratcliffe, have been awarded a Nobel Prize. With William Kaelin (Harvard) and Gregg Semenza (Johns Hopkins) he shares the 2019 physiology or medicine prize. Their work is leading to new treatments for many diseases including cancer.

Prof. Xin Lu (Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre co-director) – “It is wonderful that the outstanding achievements of Peter and his colleagues are being recognised and celebrated. Oxygen levels affect cell metabolism and growth. Many cancer cells that grow in areas of a tumour with low oxygen levels – hypoxia – are resistant to cancer therapies, such as radiotherapy. This ground-breaking research into how cells sense oxygen by Peter and his team highlights the importance of basic biology research and how this knowledge can advance our understanding of cancer initiation and enable future development of effective treatment strategies.”

Moving to Oxford to study renal medicine in the early 90’s, Peter played a key part in a trans-Atlantic community’s efforts to understand the molecular sensors by which animal cells respond to oxygen starvation, or hypoxia. These studies not only led him to discover that crucial sensor but, also an entirely new mechanism of intracellular singling. For these and other contributions to the understanding and potential treatment of  cancer and other diseases, Peter was knighted in 2014 and shares the prestigious 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, again with William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza.

Prof. Mark Middleton (Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre co-director) – “I’m proud to see science at Oxford recognised in this way. Sir Peter’s work has contributed massively to our understanding of how cancers develop. His insights show several ways in which we might improve the treatment of cancer, and their impact is being felt in the clinic today.”