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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S001069/1
Title: Semi-autonomous non-invasive surgery: The "outside in" of molecular-targeted theranostics for cancer
Principal Investigator: McLaughlan, Dr JR
Other Investigators:
Coletta, Dr PL
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
iThera Medical ST Robotics International
Department: Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Organisation: University of Leeds
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship - NHFP
Starts: 17 June 2018 Ends: 16 June 2021 Value (£): 666,643
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Biophysics Drug Formulation & Delivery
Medical Imaging Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Technical Consultancy
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
08 May 2018 EPSRC UKRI CL Innovation Fellowship Interview Panel 1 - 8 and 9 May 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The aim of this fellowship is to bring together a multi-disciplinary team of experts in Engineering, Physics and Medicine, with support from two industrial partners. This team will develop a revolutionary new system to improve both diagnosis and therapy (theranostics) of head and neck cancers. The treatment and long-term aftercare of patients with head and neck cancers represents an unmet clinical need due to the debilitating side-effects of current invasive treatments, such as damage to the vocal cords. The proposed system will use semi-autonomous robotics to combine high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) with laser illumination. The proposed strategy will also capitalise on recent advances in precision medicine - the tailoring of medical care to the specific requirements of the individual patient.

Nano-scale metallic particles may be manufactured in such a way that they will target and attach to cancerous tissue. Once in the correct location, it is possible to activate them for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. When simultaneously exposed to ultrasound and laser illumination (of nanosecond duration), tiny vapour bubbles form around the nanoparticles. When these bubbles burst, they emit a clear ultrasound signal which can be detected via conventional diagnostic ultrasound systems. This ultrasound signal is only emitted in the presence of the unique combination of nanoparticles, laser illumination and ultrasound. This approach provides direct localisation of cancerous regions and has greater sensitivity compared with current photoacoustic imaging.

HIFU therapy is a non-invasive and non-ionising technique which is already in clinical use for the treatment of various malignancies including prostate and liver cancer. This fellowship seeks to enhance the use of HIFU for the treatment of head and neck cancers since the presence of these vapour bubbles created by the targeted nanoparticles is known to enhance thermal damage in a localised region and improve treatment efficacy.

Integrating this theranostic approach with a waterproof robotic arm, developed in conjunction with a UK-based robotics manufacturer, will allow for semi-autonomous cancer treatment, which will remove the need for highly trained surgical teams and result in reduced treatment costs for the NHS. A waterproof system enables the entire imaging/surgical apparatus to be submerged in a water tank to allow patients to comfortably lie prone on the treatment bed without the need for direct physical contact with the theranostic system.

This ambitious three-year fellowship comprises three key research objectives. The first objective is the development of a theranostics system combining a diagnostic and therapeutic ultrasound system and a laser light delivery method. The second objective, supported through a collaboration with a biomedical imaging company (iThera Medical), is the validation of the targeting and safety of the gold nanoparticles in cell lines and in animal models, followed by demonstration of the efficacy of this theranostic technique in pre-clinical models of head and neck cancer. The final research objective is the development and validation of semi-autonomous waterproof robotics with the capability of identifying and treating cancerous regions with minimal input from an operator.

This multi-disciplinary approach could be rapidly translated into clinical applications. This would provide an answer to a currently unmet clinical need for the treatment and long-term management of patients with head and neck cancers. In addition, the use of targeted therapies in conjunction with semi-autonomous robotic systems represents a revolutionary new future for healthcare, where highly skilled, long and expensive surgical procedures could be replaced with a safer, less invasive, lower cost alternative.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk