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University of Hull leads £1.85m national project to develop new technology to transform colorectal cancer treatment and diagnosis

The University of Hull is developing new technology that could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, in conjunction with King’s College London and Imperial College London, as part of a £1.85m national research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The research, which is being led by the University of Hull, will develop new tools for precision surgery – particularly the underpinning chemistry – to treat colorectal cancer, which is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK. The technology will deliver transformational improvements in the detection and treatment of the disease, developing a system that improves the ability to carry out optically and radio-guided surgery, and improve surgical effectiveness.

Once developed, the tools will create the ability to perform precision surgery on colorectal cancer, ensuring a localised effect by targeting a specific organ or cell type. This could lead to reduced side effects and fewer treatment visits – improving patients’ quality of life and reducing costs for the NHS.

‘Translational nanoconstructs for targeted tissue accumulation and guided surgery in cancer’ researchers
University of Hull researchers (l-r): Professor Steve Archibald, Professor Carl Redshaw and Dr Tim Prior.

Currently, over 100 new patients are diagnosed with colorectal cancer per day in the UK. Progress with improving survival has been slow, and the disease burden has been increasing with the country’s ageing population. The team of experts behind the project aim to address this major unmet clinical need by delivering more sophisticated methods of screening, diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance.

The researchers will develop a multimodal nanoparticle system to target rapidly growing and invasive colorectal cancer cells. Once developed, the new technology could change the way that surgical operations are conducted on colorectal cancer, enabling precision surgical intervention that reduces recurrence of the disease. The technology also has the potential to enhance diagnosis and surveillance of colorectal cancer.

The project, ‘Translational nanoconstructs for targeted tissue accumulation and guided surgery in cancer’, brings together a new UK-wide research network to deliver a revolution in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The team comprises researchers from the three partner universities plus industrial partners and clinicians.

The research builds on the University of Hull’s expertise in improving outcomes for cancer patients. The University’s other major projects include the £4.9m TRANSFORMing Cancer Outcomes in Yorkshire programme led by Hull York Medical School; and the Hull Molecular Imaging Centres: a group of medical-imaging facilities – led by the University of Hull’s Professor in Molecular Imaging, Steve Archibald – that bring together expertise from the Medical School, University and Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust to improve diagnostic care for cancer patients and deliver some of the best patient treatment in the UK for cancer and cardiac disease. A Daisy Appeal charity led partnership has driven more than £15 million investment into world leading infrastructure for molecular imaging that will be used to carry out research for this project and facilitate subsequent translation to clinical trials.

Professor of Inorganic Materials Chemistry at the University of Hull, and Lead PI of this multi-institutional project, Carl Redshaw, said: “There is a tremendous problem with cancer diagnosis in the UK at present, and an urgent need for new diagnostics and treatment methods that enable the effective targeting of resources for patients with severe disease.

“This work will, if successful, contribute to tackling this important and very urgent problem for the NHS by helping to address the detection issue and enhance the ability to conduct precise surgical intervention in a timely manner. This will improve surgical effectiveness, reducing recurrence of this disease, and we hope this adventurous and ambitious project will help win the fight against this terrible disease.”

Professor Mark Green, Department of Physics, King’s College London, said: “We’re excited to be working with world leading researchers, to develop new nanoparticles to specifically image cancers. KCL Physics, along with numerous partners both inside and outside KCL, have, over the last 20 years developed a range of new nanomaterials which are starting to emerge as genuinely important diagnostic tools against a range of diseases. We look forwards to seeing our next generation materials continue the fight against cancer.”

Daniel Elson, Professor of Surgical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Surgery & Cancer, Imperial College London, said: “There are currently too few fluorescent agents available for targeted clinical diagnostic imaging. We are excited to be able to contribute by imaging these contrast agents with surgical devices to evaluate their translational potential.”

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