Rui Reis

Portuguese tissue-engineering expert wins £350,000 research prize

A leading Portuguese scientist, Professor Rui L Reis, has been named as the winner of the IET's prestigious AF Harvey Research Prize for his outstanding work in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Professor Reis, from the University of Minho in Portugal, will use his £350,000 prize fund to support a further five years of work with the aim of creating a unique tissue-engineering platform to generate 3D cancer microenvironments. These can be used as functional disease models for screening cancer drugs that are under development by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as novel therapies that are being tested by the medical community.

He was chosen from high-calibre candidates across the world. Sir John O’Reilly, chair of the IET’s selection committee for the prize, pointed to Professor Reis’s research record, adding: “Trialling the efficacy of new anti-cancer drugs remains one of the biggest challenges facing scientists today and his breakthrough research in the field of 3D engineering of functional cancer disease models could accelerate the screening of new drugs and the approval of new treatments.”

Professor Reis commented: “Cancer has become the third most likely cause of death worldwide. One of the most serious obstacles facing scientists involved in the development and assessment of new anti-cancer drugs and therapies is the failure of preclinical cancer models being able to predict, in a reliable way, whether a given drug will have anti-cancer activity and acceptable toxicity in humans. Most animal models are not representative of human situations, and currently more than 70-80 per cent of cancer research is based on 2D models which can’t accurately replicate the three dimensional properties of cancer cells such as tumours.

“I am honoured to receive this award that is considered by many to be one of the major international engineering awards. It is also a privilege to be the first winner whose career is based in a country that is not English-speaking and not a scientific powerhouse.

“I trust that it will help my team and me to use our TERM unique expertise in order to move towards solving this situation, by means of creating novel breakthrough and reliable 3D-engineered functional cancer disease models. This will help to predict the efficacy of novel cancer drugs and potential therapies, avoiding a range of unnecessary animal tests, and preclinical and clinical trials of doomed-to-fail new drugs, and it will for sure have an impact in the future of health care provision.”

The prize is named after Dr AF Harvey, who bequeathed a generous sum of money to the IET for a trust fund to be set up in his name for the furtherance of scientific research into the fields of medical, microwave, laser or radar engineering.

Professor Reis will give a lecture on his research at the IET’s London headquarters, Savoy Place, on 20 March 2018.

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