The University of Exeter has received a multi-million pound research grant to lead pioneering new research to develop vastly more accurate procedures to detect, identify and treat life-threatening diseases, such as cancer.
The University has received £5.7 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to lead the innovative new five-year project, called Raman Nanotheranostics (RaNT) – developing the targeted diagnostics and therapeutics of the future by combining light and functionalised nanoparticles.
The research team behind the project believe it has the potential not just to increase survival rates and quality of life, but also potentially save many hundreds of millions of pounds across the UK each year by reducing numbers of ineffective or unnecessary treatments.
The project aims to use the emerging field of nanotheranostics – a combination of therapy and diagnosis – to identify and treat disease in a single, effective non-surgical procedure.
The research team will use gold nanotechnologies – small, non-toxic gold particles which can be used both for identifying and localising disease as well as for targeted treatments using light to destroy diseased cells in the body in a controlled and safe manner.
The research will also aim to provide more accurate diagnosis by pinpointing specific cells, and also lead to improved localised treatment that can be tailored to each individual patient.
The substantial grant, allocated as part of the EPSRC’s Programmes in Healthcare Technologies scheme, will fund a research partnership between Exeter and the University of Cambridge, London School of Pharmacy (University College London) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility.
Professor Nick Stone, from the University of Exeter and lead researcher for the project said: “The new approach should enable us to not only find and identify the disease, but also to tailor the treatment to the individual patient and then to provide it, all in one safe procedure.”
Existing diagnostic techniques do not manage to measure the early changes in the makeup of abnormal cells – whilst they are still in the body – with sufficient accuracy or sensitivity. In cancers the molecular changes found within the cells and tissues are the long-term effects of genetic mutations driving the tumour development.
The new research project will look to identify these early changes within the body, without removing tissue, and to use them to target treatment or monitor progression using light, rather than X-rays.
The research team will develop a new approach for assembling tiny gold nanoparticle clusters within the body, to target diseased cells. Most significantly, the team will be able to tune the size of these clusters and the wavelength or colour of light to trigger a therapeutic response, via heating or targeted drug delivery.