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Cancer Research UK’s Pioneers Explore How Silicone, Artificial Intelligence and Oxygen Nano-Bubbles Can Help Tackle Cancer

6th April 2016
By Guest Author

Three groups of scientists begin the search for answers to some bold but rather unusual questions, all thanks to the CRUK Pioneer Award. Could their new ideas have a part to play in beating cancer sooner?

The Pioneer Award

Ever had a great idea that could change the way we tackle cancer, but thought it was too unconventional to receive funding? Well, think again. Cancer Research UK’s Pioneer Award exclusively funds innovative ideas that have the potential to be game-changing in how we tackle cancer.

The appropriately named award is aimed at individuals or teams from any discipline, not just medical science. Whether you’re a mathematician, a physicist, or a software developer, you could have something to offer. The second round of awardees have just been announced, and each of the ideas has exciting potential to challenge the status quo in cancer research. Here, we take a look at three of the five recently funded projects.

A.I. and surgical decision-making

Professor Richard Edmondson, from the University of Manchester, has an idea that truly exemplifies the “all welcome” nature of the award. He plans to use large data sets and complex algorithms to predict the outcomes of surgeries. Richard believes that algorithms based on more factors compared to previous attempts (including patient information, tumour biology and surgeon details) will make better predictions.

This technology is already used prominently in banking and commerce, but now it could help clinicians decide if, and when, to carry out surgery. Not only could this standardise surgical decisions across the country and improve patient outcomes, but it could also prevent unnecessary procedures, reduce suffering and risk of infection in people with cancer and save money

A special kind of fizz in your drink

Professor Eleanor Stride, from the University of Oxford, is placing her bet on a drink containing oxygen nano-bubbles. Oxygen deficiency (hypoxia) in solid tumour cells can be a key culprit in inhibiting successful treatment. It has already been shown that injecting oxygen into tumours in mice can significantly increase efficacy of treatment in the animals, but this is too dangerous to be done in humans. Efforts to address this have so far delivered limited success. The problems lie either in unwanted side effects or lack of proven efficacy associated with treatments. Eleanor hopes that oxygen nano-bubbles, delivered through a drink, hold the key to addressing both of these obstacles.

Eleanor’s team will start by looking at how the bubbles move from the stomach to the tumour site in mice, and how much of the oxygen ultimately arrives there. The focus will be on pancreatic cancer due to its particularly hypoxic nature. Pancreatic cancer is one of CRUK’s strategic priorities due to the low survival rates and lack of current treatments available – so they are always keen to fund quality applications which address the challenges associated with this type of cancer. If successful, oral administration could be a safe, cheap and efficient way to oxygenate tumours in people with pancreatic cancer.

Yet another use for silicone?

For decades silicone has had many traditional uses: sealants, moulds, contact lenses and implants. Now, treating acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) could also be added to that list, thanks to Professor Vesselin Paunov from the University of Hull. Vesselin will explore the idea of using silicone to create negative imprints of the surface of myeloblasts (the malignant cells in AML). These imprints could then potentially be used to separate malignant cells from normal white blood cells in the bloodstream by recognising their shape and size. Modification of the imprint to create a weak attraction to the malignant cells will hopefully help them bind to the imprints while healthy cells pass through.

Once the silicone has selectively shepherded the malignant cells, it could either be removed from the body or used to deliver drugs which selectively kill the cancer cells.

Sign me up

These are just three examples of pioneering ideas that could change the way we treat cancer, but the possibilities are endless. If you have a potentially revolutionary idea, this is your chance to make it a reality. Could you be the next pioneer?

Applying is easy. The process consists of a short, two-page application, and you don’t need vast amounts of supporting data. Your application will be judged anonymously by a committee made up of pioneers and entrepreneurs from a wide range of disciplines. If they think your idea has potential, you will be asked to pitch it to them in a ‘Dragons Den’-style meeting. The decision will be made very quickly and you will receive the money within four months.

Watch our video below, where Committee members Greg Hannon and Billy Boyle explain what they are looking for, or if you want to find out more, visit our website. The next deadline is 5th September 2016.

RR-V2Rodrigo is a Chemistry graduate from the University of Bristol. He is currently doing an internship in the Research Brand and Communications team at Cancer Research UK, and will soon be starting in a new role in the Operations team.

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