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Oxford to lead new programme of AI research to improve lung cancer screening

UK Research and Innovation, Cancer Research UK and industry are investing more than £11 million in an Oxford-led artificial intelligence (AI) research programme to improve the diagnosis of lung cancer and other thoracic diseases.

Professor Fergus Gleeson at the University of Oxford will lead on a programme of research focusing on accelerating pathways for the earlier diagnosis of lung cancer. Lung cancer is the biggest cause of cancer death in the UK and worldwide, with £307 million/year cost to the NHS in England. The earlier that lung cancer is diagnosed, the more likely that treatment will be successful but currently only 16% patients are diagnosed with the earliest stage of the disease. To address this clinical problem, NHS England is launching a £70 million lung cancer screening pilot programme at 10 sites*.

To improve patient care beyond the current screening guidelines, a team of academics from Oxford University, Nottingham University, and Imperial College London; NHS clinicians from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, the Royal Marsden Hospital, the Royal Brompton Hospital, and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation will join forces with three leading industrial partners (Roche Diagnostics, GE Healthcare, Optellum).

Working with the NHS England Lung Health Check programme, clinical, imaging and molecular data will be combined for the first time using AI algorithms with the aim of more accurately and quickly diagnosing and characterising lung cancer with fewer invasive clinical procedures. Algorithms will also be developed to better evaluate risks from comorbidities such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, this programme will link to data from primary care to better assess risk in the general population to refine the right at-risk individuals to be selected for screening. It is hoped that this research will define a new set of standards for lung cancer screening to increase the number of lung cancers diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Professor Fergus Gleeson, Chief Investigator for the programme, said

“The novel linking of diagnostic technologies, patient outcomes and biomarkers using AI has the potential to make a real difference to how people with suspected lung cancer are investigated. By differentiating between cancers and non-cancers more accurately based on the initial CT scan and blood tests, we hope to remove the delay and possible harm caused by repeat scans and further invasive tests. If successful, this has the potential to reduce patient anxiety and diagnose cancers earlier to improve survival and save the NHS money.”

This programme builds on the National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI) at the Big Data Institute in Oxford, one of five UK AI Centres of Excellence. The funding, delivered through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, is part of over £13m government investment in ‘data to early diagnosis and precision medicine’ for the research, development and evaluation of integrated diagnostic solutions. UKRI is also partnering with Cancer Research UK, which is making up to a £3m contribution to the cancer-focused projects. The Oxford-led project is one of six awarded from this competition.

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway MP, said:

“Our brilliant scientists and researchers in Oxford are harnessing world-leading technologies, like AI, to tackle some of the most complex and chronic diseases that we face. Tragically, we know that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. The University of Oxford project we are backing today will help ensure more lives are saved and improved by using state of the art technology to identify cancerous tumours in the lung earlier and more accurately.”

Dr Timor Kadir, Chief Science & Technology Officer at Optellum Ltd, commented:

“Three industry leaders – Roche, Optellum and GE – have joined their expertise in molecular diagnostics, imaging and AI to help diagnose and treat lung cancer patients at the earliest possible stage. The programme results will be integrated into Optellum’s AI-driven Clinical Decision Support platform that supports physicians in choosing the optimal diagnostic and treatment procedures for the right patient at the right time.”

Ben Newton, General Manager, Oncology, at GE Healthcare, said:

“We are very pleased to be working with the University of Oxford via the NCIMI project on this important lung cancer research. By extending our existing NCIMI data infrastructure and creating innovative AI solutions to spot comorbid pathologies, we aim to help identify lung diseases earlier in the UK.”

Geoff Twist, Managing Director UK and Ireland and Management Centre European Agents at Roche Diagnostics Ltd, said:

“We are thrilled with this funding award, because it gives us the opportunity to work towards ground-breaking innovation in early diagnosis and because working in partnership is vital to achieve success in the health system. By bringing together the collective knowledge and expertise of these academic, medical and industry partners, this project has the potential to impact patient care globally through new diagnostic solutions in lung cancer.”

Dr Jesme Fox, Medical Director of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said:

“The majority of our lung cancer patients are diagnosed too late for the disease to be cured. We know that we need to be diagnosing lung cancer at an earlier stage, through screening. This innovative project has the potential to revolutionise lung cancer screening, making it more efficient and most importantly, saving lives. Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is delighted to support this Programme”

Professor Xin Lu, co-Director of the CRUK Oxford Centre and Director of the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection, commented:

“I am delighted that this national multi-site collaborative programme will be led from Oxford by Fergus Gleeson. Involving a world-class team of academics, clinicians, local and global industry, and patient representatives, this research is hugely important for accelerating lung cancer detection.”

 

* The 10 NHS England Lung Health Check sites are:

  • North East and Cumbria Cancer Alliance – Newcastle Gateshead CCG
  • Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance – Tameside and Glossop CCG
  • Cheshire and Merseyside Cancer Alliance – Knowsley CCG and Halton CCG
  • Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance – Blackburn with Darwen CCG and Blackpool CCG
  • West Yorkshire Cancer Alliance – North Kirklees CCG
  • South Yorkshire Cancer Alliance – Doncaster CCG
  • Humber, Coast and Vale Cancer Alliance – Hull CCG
  • East of England Cancer Alliance – Thurrock CCG and Luton CCG
  • East Midlands Cancer Alliance – Northamptonshire CCG and Mansfield and Ashfield CCG
  • Wessex Cancer Alliance – Southampton CCG

 

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.

Oxford researcher secures funding for powerful imaging technique in pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) is funding six new research projects with a total of £1 million – bringing the charity’s support for research into the UK’s most lethal cancer to over £8 million. This is the third year that PCRF has invested £1 million in a single funding round. In total, the charity has funded 40 cutting edge research projects across the UK and Ireland, worth over £6 million.

Oxford researcher Dr Bart Cornelissen will be leading one of the six newly funded projects. Dr Cornelissen aims to use powerful imaging techniques to diagnose early stage pancreatic cancer. His team has already developed an imaging agent that attaches to a protein known as claudin-4 which is expressed in the early stages of the disease. This project will develop the agent so that this protein can be rapidly detected and monitored using PET scanners, which are increasingly common in hospitals. Dr Cornelissen is part of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Pancreatic Cancer working group, and the early stages of this project were supported by an Oxford Centre Development Fund award.

Projects at Imperial College London, University of Liverpool, Swansea University, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and Queen Mary University of London, will also receive funding.

These new grants are in addition to the £2 million committed to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank, which launched in January 2016 and will accelerate research progress. The Tissue Bank is the world’s first nationally co-ordinated pancreas tissue bank and has already been hailed as “one of the most important developments in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation”.

Says PCRF’s founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks: “In the charity’s early years, we had to focus on basic research to help understand pancreatic cancer and its mechanisms, with the knowledge that this would be a springboard for future research progress. More recently – typified by this year’s grants – we’ve been able to focus on projects that are closer to patients. These include innovative ways of making current treatments much more effective, developing ‘personalised medicine’ approaches and finding ways to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages.

“We’re committed to beating this disease and thanks to our loyal supporters whose fundraising enables us to fund all these projects and initiatives, we’re making real progress towards this goal.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK funds new Oxford researcher in the fight against pancreatic cancer

National charity Pancreatic Cancer UK has today announced the award of £100,000 to a research team based at the University of Oxford. The grant will allow the addition of a new member to the team as part of the charity’s pioneering Future Leaders Fund, amounting to over £500,000 in similar grants across the UK. This award will support a student through a DPhil project which will be supervised by Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill.

In the project, the new researcher will investigate how the body’s own immune system, which normally fights infections, could be leading to treatment failures and poor survival rates in pancreatic cancer. The mixture of cells and proteins that surround pancreatic cancer cells, otherwise known as the tumour stroma, is particularly dense compared to other cancers and can make up to 90 per cent of the tumour mass. The stroma can become infiltrated with a specific type of immune cell which is thought to prevent chemotherapy from working properly.

This research aims to discover how and why this happens, with the hope that the findings will lead to treatments for the future that target the immune cells and therefore improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre members Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill comment; “We are thrilled that Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Leaders Fund award has allowed us to bring in a bright young student to work alongside us on our investigations into the interactions between our immune system and pancreatic cancer. We are hoping that this research will help us to gain a better understanding of the reasons that so many tumours are resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in order for us to start developing strategies to improve the efficacy of current treatments.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Leaders Fund aims to attract new research talent and retain that expertise within the field, by supporting the research leaders of the future with both clinical and non-clinical research.

Today’s announcement coincides with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout November, the charity is urging people to find out more about pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer UK believes its ongoing support of pioneering, individual research grants will make a significant difference in a disease area where survival rates have remained the same for the last 40 years. Pancreatic cancer kills one person in the UK every hour and is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths, yet receives only 1.4% of the total cancer research spend in the UK.

The Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre sees pancreatic cancer as a critical area of focus. Both Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill are members of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Pancreatic Working Group, whose first meeting was held on World Pancreatic Cancer Day. This working group brings together 30 researchers and clinicians from multiple groups within the Oxford Centre network. The working group members come from a range of disciplines and by coming together they are able to further apply their world-leading science to areas of work that will have significant impact for patients.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “As a charity that represents people with pancreatic cancer and their families, we have a responsibility to tackle the huge issue of under-funding into pancreatic cancer research as well as stimulating interest among the research community.

“We are delighted to be announcing this research at the University of Oxford as part of our latest round of grants under our Future Leaders Fund. We feel confident that the projects we have chosen to fund have the potential to make an important contribution to the fight against this disease. It is very exciting to be pairing up some of the most experienced researchers in the field and working together to begin to develop the leaders of the future in the fight against this terrible disease. We are looking forward to hearing of their findings as they work together with the aim of helping thousands of people with pancreatic cancer live for longer.”

To find out more about the Pancreatic Working Group at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre please contact cancercentre@oncology.ox.ac.uk