29 Oct 2014   |   Network Updates   |   Update from University College London
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UCL awarded £13.5 million to advance medical research facilities

As part of the Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative, UCL has been awarded £13.5 million for a number of projects to help advance clinical research.

The award was announced today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne as part of a £230 million investment, led by the Medical Research Council (MRC), into state-of-the-art technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer and dementia and dramatically speeding up diagnosis and treatment.

Speaking in Exeter, Chancellor George Osborne said: “The funding will go to 23 truly innovative projects from across the UK today that represent the best of British ingenuity and scientific exploration. The Government, charities, universities and industry will be working together to advance our knowledge in combatting the biggest medical challenges of our time.”

The UCL projects that will benefit from the award are:

A Theranostic Approach to Patients with Cancer (£5.3M)
The novel programme led by Professor Mark Emberton (Director, UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science & Honorary Consultant Urologist, UCLH) and Dr Shonit Punwani (Reader in Magnetic Resonance and Cancer Imaging, UCL Centre for Medical Imaging & Consultant Radiologist, UCLH) aims to revolutionise diagnosis, risk stratification and therapy for people with cancer, based on innovations in MRI technology.

The group will combine and develop the latest imaging technologies with an understanding of the cellular and molecular environment of cancers in order to verify whether a lesion on an image is cancer and predict its aggressiveness. Added to this will be the development of new technologies to deliver precise treatment to individual cancer sites. UCL has a strong track record of creating ‘image-guided’ therapies for prostate cancer and aims to extend this to other cancer sites, beginning with lung and gastrointestinal cancers.

Speaking of the award, Dr Shonit Punwani said: “At UCL we are fortunate to have some of the finest imaging and focal therapy infrastructure in the country. For example, UCL/H were the first in the country to install a simultaneous PET-MRI scanner and currently await installation of proton-beam therapy. The vision is to revolutionise diagnosis, risk stratification and therapy for people with cancer based on innovations in imaging technology.”

Professor Mark Emberton commented: “This award is a powerful catalyst helping to bring together engineers, physicists, imaging experts, chemists and surgeons in order to create the diagnostics and therapies of the future. The UCL team of investigators will apply the MRC awarded technology first to prostate cancer, and aim rapidly to move to other cancers such as colorectal and lung.”

Single Cell Genomics (£3.6M)
A dedicated facility headed by Professor Tariq Enver (Director, UCL Cancer Institute) will be established with state-of-the-art equipment to enable researchers at UCL to study Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) as surrogates of tumour tissue.

Following the development of highly sophisticated technology to isolate CTCs and technological advances in genetic sequencing, scientists, for the first time, can begin to understand tumour heterogeneity at the single cell level. The facility will initially establish methods to undertake complex single cell analysis to help develop and validate tests in patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer. The group will also focus on how CTCs can be used to understand the spread of cancer and the development of metastases – which are responsible for the death of 90% patients with cancer.

UK Dementias Research Platform (£36.8M, £3.4m for UCL)
The UK Dementias Platform (UKDP) is a radically new approach to dementias research, bringing together data from around 2 million study participants to try establish the causes of dementia and to discover ways of slowing it down. The platform, launched in 2014, is a collaborative network of UK Universities, including UCL, and pharmaceutical companies.

The award of £36.8 million, of which UCL will receive £3.4 million, will go towards improving the UK infrastructure for dementias research through three themes – imaging, informatics and stem cells. A network of new machines that can combine positron emission tomography (PET) and MRI will be established across the UK, clinical data will be made more accessible for researchers and stem cells from adults, both with and without dementia, will be studies to establish how cells change with the progression of dementia.

Dementia Imaging (£1.2M)

The group headed by Professor Tarek Yousry (UCL Brain Repair & Rehabilitation) and Professor Nick Fox (UCL Neurodegenerative Diseases) will use innovative MRI technology in their dedicated Dementia Research Scanner Centre to maintain and enhance UCL’s position as a leader in clinically applied dementia imaging research.

The award will be used to upgrade the existing 3T MRI scanner, which will not only enhance imaging capabilities locally but also help to direct major multi-centre clinical trials in dementia – which are increasingly reliant on 3T infrastructure.

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