Major boost for imaging technologies that improve cancer treatments

Recent research by the Department’s Biomedical Image Analysis (BioMedIA) Group, co-directed by Dr Julia Schnabel, played a key role in the University’s Oxford Cancer Imaging Centre receiving a multi-million pound boost as part of a national initiative to improve cancer treatments.

Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are together distributing £35 million equally among four separate Cancer Imaging Centres across the country - helping to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in cancer imaging research. The three other imaging centres are at the Institute of Cancer Research, London; a joint imaging centre between King's College London and University College London; and a new collaboration between the University of Cambridge and University of Manchester.

This latest funding will bring together scientists, engineers and clinicians to develop new imaging techniques and applications which will help clinicians learn more about how tumours feed and grow, how cancer cells signal to one another, tumour blood supply, the environment surrounding tumours and molecular and genetic signatures.

The cancer imaging centres will serve as focal points of world-class research using a variety of techniques, such as optical microscopy, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), functional MRI, ultrasound, and PET (Positron Emission Tomography).

The Oxford Cancer Imaging Centre (OCIC) aims to integrate basic research in chemistry, physics and cancer biology with imaging science to guide treatment choices for cancer patients. Some of the research projects supported by this funding include drugs to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as computational image analysis methods to investigate and quantify differences between individual cancer patients' response to treatment.

Dr Julia Schnabel said: “The Image Analysis programme of OCIC, which I have taken over as Principal Investigator from Professor Sir Mike Brady in 2011, has played a pivotal role in linking through and supporting all other OCIC programmes. Postgraduate and postdoctoral research funded by this programme has attracted no less than two prestigious Young Scientist Awards from the Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Interventions (MICCAI) Society: Dr Mattias Heinrich in 2011, and Dr Bartek Papiez in 2013. I am looking forward to continuing to lead the Image Analysis programme over the next five years to explore novel imaging modalities for application to cancer, which will include combined structural and functional image fusion and joint kinetic analysis”.

Dr Julia Schnabel
Dr Julia Schnabel, PI Image Analysis programme, OCIC
Improved pharmacokinetic modelling of colorectal cancer
Improved pharmacokinetic modelling of colorectal cancer. Dr Ben Irving, OCIC PDRA.

Professor Ruth Muschel, co-director of the Oxford Cancer Imaging Centre (the other co-director is Professor Sir Michael Brady, a former Head of the Department of Engineering Science), said: “At the Oxford Cancer Imaging Centre we use research and imaging science to improve cancer treatments for patients and we can quickly take research results out into cancer clinic. With the new award we will focus on using new methods to image the tumours and their surroundings to improve cancer therapy. Imaging is essential not only to precisely identify tumours, but also to categorise them – enabling personalisation of therapy, evaluation during therapy, and the modification of treatment”.

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the EPSRC, said: “This large investment is great news and builds upon our previous successful collaboration with Cancer Research UK. These centres will bring together many of the UK’s leading scientists, engineers and clinicians interested in all aspects of imaging research, speeding up advances in new technologies and ensuring these are applied rapidly for the benefit of patients”.

The Department of Engineering Science Image Analysis programme includes valuable contributions from other Biomedical Engineering faculty members namely, Dr Michael Chappell, Dr Vicente Grau, and Professor Alison Noble OBE, and from the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB), Professor Peter Jezzard and Dr Mark Jenkinson. The overall Principal Investigator is Professor Gillies McKenna, Head of Department of Oncology and Director of the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology.

Links to more information on this initiative: