Brain Cancer
Survival rates in hard-to-treat cancers like lung and brain cancers will be improved by new cancer research funding to use cutting-edge technology like AI for more efficient treatment. Photo: Pixabay

Cancer patients in the UK could have a better future as the UK government boosted funding for cutting-edge cancer research under four projects.

The new projects led by Lauren Ford at Imperial College London, Tim Witney at Kings College London, Ben Newland at Cardiff University, Sara Valpione at Manchester University and Christie NHS Foundation Trust are aimed at funding research for the hard-to-treat cancers through modern technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Last week, the Department for Science along with the Department of Health and Social Care, announced a £2 million fund backing cancer research in critical hard-to-treat cancers.

The primary objective is to tackle the low survival rates in these hard-to-treat cancers. All four projects were given £500,000 each to chalk out an ambitious plan to save more lives in Britain. This includes the development of treatment strategies for oesophagus, brain and lung cancer which are hard to cure.

This government-backed funding comes from the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Funding to boost the efficiency of hard-to-treat cancer treatments

The King's College London team who have received the funding will be working to use AI for lung cancer scans which could speed up cancer treatment in patients. Artificial Intelligence would be used to accurately predict the efficiency of lung cancer treatment and then use the data to develop specific drugs which can kill treatment-resistant cancer cells.

This comes at a time when the NHS used an AI imaging platform to improve stroke treatment.

According to Cancer Research UK, only 9.5 per cent of lung cancer patients survive for more than 10 years in the UK and the cancer survival rate hasn't improved much in the last 50 years.

The Imperial College London team will work on laser technology usage in removing brain cancer cells. This is likely to reduce the effect on normal cells as the treatment would be directed at cancer cells. It's also useful in real-time analysis of brain cancer which will help in postoperative treatment.

The Cardiff University and Brain Tumour Research team will work on specific site drug delivery for brain cancer treatment. This would be done through a cryogel, which will cross the blood-brain barrier and lodge the drug on the specific site, reducing the chances of death of healthy brain cells.

Although the brain cancer survival rate has doubled in the last 50 years, only 11.2 per cent of brain cancer patients live for more than 10 years.

The Manchester University and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust will work on improving oesophageal cancer treatment using nanoparticles. The UK researchers on this team are hoping to boost the immune system by targeting cells that reduce the effect of cancer drugs.

For oesophageal cancer, the survival rate has tripled with 12.4 per cent of UK cancer patients living beyond 10 years.

Earlier in August, the Science and Technology Secretary announced £13 million in funding for AI usage in healthcare at University College London (UCL) which will help develop features like surgical robotics platforms.

Interdisciplinary connections for better cancer research

Speaking about the new cancer research funding, Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan said: cancer treatments have enormously progressed in recent years but cancer still takes many lives, making it unbearable for families.

Donelan highlighted how the UK government is aiming to change that by investing in high-reward techniques like AI which can prolong the lives of people and give them a chance to fight. The government recognised the high risk involved in such ambitious plans but it's banking on the experience of world-class UK researchers.

Donelan elaborated on how the four projects were selected through a meticulous screening at a two-day 'sandpit' event.

The two-day event was an interactive workshop where UK researchers across disciplines like biomedical, engineering, clinical research, data science etc. brainstormed on next-generation cancer research ideas including prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: that new technology like AI is crucial for fighting cancer as it can diagnose cancer earlier, making way for faster treatment.

Barclay spoke of the UK government's plan to improve the cancer survival rates through cutting-edge cancer research and this £2 million funding will help UK researchers to understand cancer better.

MRC Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine Doctor Megan Dowie said that the MRC will be supporting the teams to achieve real-world impacts including clinical settings.

Dowie highlighted the success of the sandpit event as it proved the efficiency of interdisciplinary connections between life science and physical science researchers. This collaboration will help address the hard-to-treat cancer issues, Dowie added.