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UK to lead next-generation radiotherapy research

Image credit: Rido | Dreamstime.com

The UK is set to be transformed into an international radiotherapy research hub with the creation of a new £56m network, Cancer Research UK has announced.

The network, called Cancer Research UK RadNet, is the charity’s largest-ever investment in the field and aims to accelerate the development of advanced radiotherapy techniques and challenge the boundaries of the treatment through exploratory projects.

Radiotherapy involves the targeting of tumours with x-ray radiation, killing cancer cells by irreversibly damaging their DNA. More than 130,000 patients are treated with radiotherapy on the NHS every year. But the charity said that by optimising and personalising this treatment, it is hoped RadNet will improve cancer survival.

“Radiotherapy is a cornerstone of cancer medicine, with around three in 10 patients receiving it as part of their primary treatment,” said Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK. “The launch of our network marks a new era of radiotherapy research in the UK.”

He added: “Scientists will combine advances in our understand of cancer biology with cutting-edge technology to make this treatment more precise and effective than ever before.”

Researchers in the new network will also focus on reducing the long-term side effects associated with the treatment.

RadNet will see a collaboration between seven cancer centres across the country. These include the Universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford. Furthermore, the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre and The Institute of Cancer Research, London in partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust will join the network.

Across the seven centres, RadNet will work towards developing new techniques for delivering radiotherapy and investigate new radiotherapy-drug combinations, including immunotherapies. The research collaboration will also explore Flash radiotherapy, in which pulses of high-dose of radiation are delivered in a fraction of a second. The project will also conduct investigations into proton beam therapy and ways to overcome hypoxia: low oxygen levels within tumours which result from rapid cancer growth that blood vessels can’t keep up with.

Some £13m has been allocated to form new research groups and fund additional PhD students in Manchester, London and Cambridge. Also, the network will promote collaboration between diverse scientific fields, with a share of £4m available to all centres for joint research projects, conferences and secondments between locations.

In August, the Government announced a £250m investment in the creation of National Artificial Intelligence Lab that will help the NHS more effectively treat conditions such as cancer, dementia and heart disease.

The following month, they allocated a further £133m to develop healthcare technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI) and gene-based therapies to help people with different conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

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