Newcastle and Durham scientists to get over £2 million for cancer imaging

Newcastle University scientists are set to receive a major cash boost to develop the latest cancer imaging technologies.

Newcastle University scientists are set to receive a major cash boost to develop the latest cancer imaging technologies.

Cancer experts at Newcastle and Durham Universities will receive over £2 million over the next five years.

This is part of a £50 million nationwide initiative that will establish the UK as a world leader in cancer imaging research.

Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are leading on this exciting new strategic initiative.

Cancer Research UK will invest up to £30 million and the EPSRC will contribute £15 million towards the initiative.

In addition, the Medical Research Council (MRC) will invest £3 million and at least £1.3 million will come from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to help improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Newcastle and Durham are one of five cancer imaging research programmes which will be set up across the UK.

The others are: The Childhood Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) at The University of Birmingham, The Royal Surrey County Hospital, The University of St Andrews and The University of Sheffield.

Dr Ross Maxwell, whose research is funded by Cancer Research UK, is the lead scientist for the joint Newcastle University and Durham University cancer imaging programme grant.

Dr Maxwell, from the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University, said: "We’re delighted to have been awarded this grant to further our research in cancer imaging. Investing in this important area is vital for improving many aspects of a cancer patient’s journey – from detection to treatment."

Dr Maxwell continued: “We will use the new funding to help us develop new cancer drugs in parallel with new scanning methods to track the way they work in the body.

He added: “A team of doctors, nurses and scientists will work together developing the new imaging techniques. They will help us to identify which patients would be suitable for new drugs being developed at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University and then allow us to see if these drugs are working as they should within the patient.”

In Newcastle, the funding will be used to develop imaging techniques at Newcastle University’s Campus for Aging and Vitality on the General Hospital site and at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.

The research will involve the use of the PET* scanner (PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography) which has received over two million pounds of funding from One NorthEast, and MRI scanners also based at the Newcastle General Hospital site.

Chris Pywell, Head of Strategic Economic Change at One NorthEast, said: “Newcastle and Durham universities are leading the development of cancer research, regionally and nationally, and the award of this significant funding package is a real boost to everything they and One NorthEast are trying to achieve.”

In addition, an international panel of experts has awarded up to £2 million a year to establish four large cancer imaging centres – Imperial College London, The Institute of Cancer Research, a joint centre between King’s College London and University College London and The University of Oxford. They will serve as focal points of world-class research using a variety of imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography).

Experts at the centres will develop new imaging techniques and uses for existing advanced imaging technologies, including imaging equipment that allow scientists to watch cells in action by tracing radioactive markers injected into the patient’s body. These techniques will enable doctors to see therapies at work, identifying earlier which treatments work best for individual patients.

Some scanning techniques can provide whole-body images so clinicians can see where cancers have spread and decide how useful surgery will be, or if radiotherapy and drugs will be more effective.

The MRC will also contribute £2 million towards a new cyclotron – a particle accelerator used to produce radioactive tracers for cancer studies – at the University of Oxford, which will complement this initiative.

The NIHR will contribute over £1.3 million to support cancer imaging equipment in the NHS partners of the centres and programmes.

Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, said: “Such a large investment in this exciting and extremely important area of research is great news. These centres will bring together scientists, engineers and clinicians interested in all aspects of imaging research, speeding up advances in new technologies and benefiting patients too.”

Traditional imaging techniques, such as X-ray, CT and ultrasound, will also be developed and refined at the new centres.

Professor Herbie Newell, director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, said: “Imaging is an invaluable tool in the fight against cancer. Being able to see what’s happening inside patients is vitally important in understanding how treatments are currently working and the best ways to improve them.”

Dr Jane Cope, director of the National Cancer Research Institute, said: “This investment is a great boost for UK imaging research, and complements NCRI’s initiative to develop a collaborative network for PET research. Co-ordinating research like this is essential for making progress in the field.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Imaging is fast becoming one of the most effective means of detecting cancer early and of determining which treatment works for which patient. Cancer Research UK has identified imaging research as a priority and we believe this substantial investment over the next five years will reap many benefits. Our partnership with the EPSRC, MRC and NIHR will help us achieve our aim of improving the detection and diagnosis of cancer.”

Discoveries made through the initiative will be protected by Cancer Research Technology (CRT) – the business arm of Cancer Research UK. A CRT business manager will be assigned to each centre or programme to work with the pharmaceutical industry, establishing the best commercial model to ensure new discoveries become available to cancer patients.

published on: 4th October 2008