Three UCL-led projects to improve cancer detection and treatment, develop new brain imaging methods and work on new materials to support weak joints received funding today from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council. The investment by the council, which totals £12.2 million across the 15 projects funded by this panel, aims to bring creative engineering to bear on delivering healthcare advances.
Professor David Hawkes, (UCL Centre for Medical Imaging Computing), leads a project with Professor Andrew Evans of the University of Dundee to develop new ultrasound and MRI techniques to examine the microstructure of breast tissue. The aim is to help identify different types of breast cancer and classify them as high risk and low risk, as well as predicting their likely response to therapy. These methods will be used not only to examine the cancer itself but also microscopic changes in tissue near the cancers that could develop further. The project receives £812,000, and it is hoped that results will lead to a clinical trial.
Imaging techniques focusing on the brain will be pursued by a team led by Prof Clare Elwell (UCL Medical Physics & Bioengineering) and including Custom Interconnect Ltd, g tec Guger Technologies, and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability. Their new imaging techniques will be developed to assess and improve therapies for brain injured patients and help very disabled patients to interact with the world. With the £993,000 awarded, the team will create a wearable, comfortable, brain imaging system capable of measuring the level and location of electrical activity and oxygen use in the brain. Researchers will investigate whether these systems can be used to help patients communicate and control the world around them and how clinically relevant information can be extracted from the captured signals and images.
A multidisciplinary team drawn from UCL Engineering and the physical sciences at UCL, in partnertship with URT Group Ltd, will be studying the properties of new materials and composites that could be used to provide joint support, or even full exoskeletons, for patients needing rehabilitation or permanent support. This could be used to support joints which bend, to rehabilitate weak muscles needing exercise whilst healing after fractures, or in an exoskeleton to help people walk. Professor Nick Tyler, head of UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Enginering and also Director of the UCL Accessibility Research Group, will lead this £994,000 project.
Richard Prager, from the University of Cambridge, who chaired the panel assessing the research proposals, said: “Technology for rehabilitation, acute care and imaging has huge potential to transform lives and improve medicine. It is great that such an exciting set of ambitious projects has been funded.
“The referees and review panel were greatly impressed by the large number and outstanding quality of proposals received.”
Professor David Delpy, CEO of EPSRC said: “The research we are funding is aimed at developing a range of innovative technologies which can improve the diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses including Alzheimer’s and cancer, improve patient outcomes, and help severely disabled people. EPSRC funds projects which are both world-leading research, and can make a real difference to people’s lives.”