Researchers from UCL Mechanical Engineering and UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging have received this year’s Rosetrees Trust Interdisciplinary prize to study how T-cells, a key part of the immune system, act upon a particularly virulent form of cancer. The project will combine state-of the art imaging of tumours with simulations, allowing the team to test ideas not possible with either method alone.
Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, where T-cells taken from the blood are reprogrammed to target specific molecules within the tumour, has shown success for treating leukemia. However, it has not worked so well with solid tumours. This work will test ideas about why this treatment is so far less effective, and hopes to find explanations that will enable better treatment of pancreatic cancer through combinations of drugs or precise timing of their delivery.
Real-life images of whole tumours, using multiple high-resolution imaging techniques, will show the team how tumours are structured and connected. Then, this biological information will be combined with mathematical ideas about blood flow and the transport of molecules and cells in the body to study how T-cells arrive, multiply and act at the tumour site. Finally, promising hypotheses about the factors that might limit T-cell behaviour – such as the effect of cell and vessel density – and ways to circumvent them will be tested in vivo using tumour samples.
Projects applying maths or computer science to a medical problem were eligible for this interdisciplinary prize. This proposal was chosen from across UCL as the single project the university would submit. 14 other universities from the UK and Israel did the same, and the project was selected by the Rosetrees Trust to receive nearly £250000 in support. Discipline-crossing and ambitious, the project will be jointly led by Dr Rebecca Shipley and Dr Walker-Samuel.
Dr Rebecca Shipley (UCL Mechanical Engineering) is a mathematician specializing in biomedical engineering, building simulations of biological systems, including the flow of blood, and oxygen and drug delivery. Her work involves collaborations with clinicians and life scientists across UCL and includes projects on tissue engineering, toxicity testing, and vasculature at multiple scales, and she will be leading on the computational side of the project
Dr Walker-Samuel (UCL CABI) develops new ways to look at the small scale features of intact tissues. He has developed methods for imaging tumour glucose uptake, interstitial fluid pressure and cell size using MRI, which are proposed for use in clinical settings. These new ideas are checked using other imaging methods such as x-ray micro-computed tomography, fluorescence microscopy and optical projection tomography. Biological information gained by imaging will both form the basis of the computation models, and be used to validate in vivo work testing their findings later on.
Dr Shipley said
‘We are absolutely delighted to have won the 2016 Rosetrees Interdisciplinary Prize, which will enable us to take our approach to the next level in terms of informing novel cancer treatments. We are indebted to the Rosetrees for investing in this kind of cross-disciplinary research, and UCL for creating the environment to support it.’