UK’s first ‘convergence science’ centre launches

Author: Caroline White

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The UK’s first “convergence science” centre has launched under the aegis of Cancer Research UK, which is bringing together scientists from two of the UK’s foremost academic research institutions under the leadership of renowned cancer experts, Professor Paul Workman from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Professor the Lord Ara Darzi from Imperial College London.

The new £13 million “convergence science” centre integrates the knowledge, methods and expertise from different scientific disciplines – from physics to data science, and from engineering and the biological sciences to medicine to speed up scientific discovery and innovation for people with cancer and create new treatments and technologies.

One such project involves re-imagining ultrasound technology to develop a treatment that can liquefy cancer cells in the body without the need for invasive surgery.

A team of biologists, physicists, engineers and clinicians are exploring whether a specialised therapeutic version of ultrasound, called histotripsy, could be adapted to destroy pancreatic tumours located deep within the body.

The team will use tightly focused, high-frequency sound waves to target and break apart cancer cells with the help of microbubbles.

The sound waves cause the microbubbles to expand and contract rapidly, putting a strain on the cancer cell and breaking it apart into harmless fragments to be reabsorbed into the body and expelled naturally.

In another project, researchers are fine-tuning a technique, originally developed to explore autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, to look at the activation of immune cells within a tumour in real-time and better understand why immunotherapies work for some patients, but not for others.

“Although we are making great strides in the treatment of some cancers, survival remains stubbornly low for others, such as pancreatic cancer. If we are to make any real progress for patients, we need to take a bolder and more creative approach to research,” commented Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK.

“By opening new avenues for collaboration, we can bring in fresh ideas from outside the traditional cancer research space. This convergence will allow us to tackle research challenges from completely different angles, so we can scale the hurdles that have prevented treatment breakthroughs in the past, and secure a future for more people with cancer.”

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and director of the Convergence Science Centre, said: “It’s fantastic to think that microbubbles could be used to blow cancer cells apart, and this is just one example of the exciting innovation we expect to see within the new Convergence Science Centre.

Professor the Lord Ara Darzi, director of Imperial College London’s Cancer Research Centre, said: “Through this new centre and the training opportunities it presents, we will instil the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration into tomorrow’s researchers. Data science, physics and engineering are already transforming the way we treat cancer; integrating the expertise and knowledge of these disciplines is key to future-proofing our important work.

“By creating a new generation of convergent scientists, we’re opening the door to new tools, devices and algorithms that we could never have imagined before. The combined strength of our two world leading institutions will set the standard for the future of convergence science, to transform cancer research in the UK and across the world.”

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