MRC funding to develop techniques for precision removal of brain cancer cells

Imperial researchers make up one of four teams receiving £500k to work across disciplines on improving outcomes of hard-to-treat cancers.

The projects were selected following a two-day ‘sandpit’ event designed to promote new conversations and create teams of researchers across scientific disciplines from clinical, biomedical, engineering, physical and data sciences. The teams co-developed innovative ideas and solutions to advance cancer research including for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Imperial’s project will be led by the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction’s Dr Lauren Ford and will look to develop techniques for the precision removal of brain cancer cells using a laser.

This technique could reduce the impact of treatment on normal cells as well as provide real-time data on the nature of the cancer, which can then be used to inform post-operative treatment.

Describing the research in more detail, Dr Ford said: “Glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumours are deadly and incurable. Effective treatment options for GBM are urgently needed. The extent of surgical GBM tumour resection substantially impacts patient survival, but damage to normal brain can severely affect quality of life. In all cases, some cancer cells remain and are treated with radiochemotherapy but this subsequent treatment only delays tumour regrowth, and patient demise, by an average of 3 months.

“This proposal will allow collection of preliminary data, which will feed into our long term goals of developing technology to simultaneously tackle two aspects that currently hinder effective GBM treatment by: 1) developing a new laser-tissue interaction regime that can precisely remove cancer cells, with reduced thermal impact on normal brain cells whilst simultaneously optimising the “ejection plume” from the ablation site for, 2) attaching these lasers to in situ metabolic profiling equipment that can feedback pathological information (contained in the ejection plume) to the surgeon and be used to stratify patients and inform on more effective, targeted treatments that prevent recurrence.”

Speaking about the £2m funding investment, MRC Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, Dr Megan Dowie said: “We look forward to supporting the teams towards achieving real-world impacts, both in a clinical setting and the real hope they may ultimately be able to offer to those suffering from some of the most challenging cancer diagnoses.”