Professor Martin Leach
Academic Title: Professor of Physics as Applied to Medicine
Tel: 0208 661 3338
Our research develops imaging approaches to better detect, evaluate and plan the treatment of cancer, and better assess the action of cancer therapies. This encompasses the development and validation of new probes, instrumentation and techniques, measurement techniques using available equipment, methods to obtain physiological and metabolic properties, methods of analysing and presenting information and methods of handling and storing image related data. A key feature of this research is to translate methods from pre-clinical studies through to clinical applications. Increasingly, information from a range of modalities is being integrated to help address specific clinical or research questions. A particular focus is to develop biomarkers of drug action to employ in developmental research and in early stage clinical trials.
We have a major focus on Magnetic Resonance(MR) measurements. New approaches to measuring and analysing the vascular properties of tumours are being developed based on dynamic contrast enhanced Magentic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Diffusion imaging provides a means of probing cellularity, proliferation and cell death. Whole body diffusion provides a means of detecting disease and we have developed methods of quantifying metastatic burden that are of value in assessing new treatments. Spectroscopy allows us to identify a range of metabolites which we have shown to be sensitive to pathway inhibition.
We are identifying the underlying processes leading to the changes seen using imaging techniques and their link to cellular control and oncogene regulation. We are also developing the application of dynamic nuclear polarisation, a new technique which greatly increases sensitivity, allowing the dynamic observation of uptake and metabolism of labelled tracers. Planned developments in radio-chemistry, pre-clinical and clinical isotope imaging will complement these approaches.
A range of our development work aims to characterise and evaluate tumour heterogeneity and assess the changes that occur with treatment. This is predicated on a range of informatics approaches, models of tumour behaviour and the development of a research picture archival and communication system (PACS) that will encompass preclinical and clinical research.
Further research aims are to develop improved evaluation methods in breast cancer detection and assessment, including a dedicated MRI imaging and treatment system.
I have been motivated by translating developments in physics and related science to improve our understanding of disease and its treatment. My primary interest has been in developing and advancing magnetic resonance measurements to detect and diagnose cancer and to plan and evaluate cancer treatments.
With new treatments targeting cellular pathways that are central to cancer development, it has become increasingly important to develop imaging markers of target inhibition and to identify and characterise these in pre-clinical studies before moving these in to clinical studies. This involves identification of new biomarkers of pathways, and developing measurement and analysis methods to evaluate these biomarkers.
Following degrees in Physics and Applied Radiation Physics, I performed a research project on measuring body calcium by in vivo fast neutron activation analysis supervised by Professor John Fremlin in the Department of Physics at Birmingham. This involved working with the Nuffield Cyclotron, production of isotopes, development of analysis equipment and the study of inert gas behaviour in vivo.
I then joined the Joint Department of Physics at the Institute of Cancer Research to work on developing Computed Tomography (CT) scanners for radiotherapy planning, moving on to work with isotope imaging and a prototype Positron Emission Tomography (PET) system before developing the Magnetic Resonance (MR) programme with Janet Husband. The programme was initially clinically focussed and I developed applications of quantitative and functional imaging and MR spectroscopy to characterise cancer and its response to treatments. This led to many applications, including the MARIBS trial of MR for detecting breast cancer in women at high risk, which led to revised recommendations for management of high risk women by NICE and the American Cancer Society, resulting in the introduction of such screening in the cancer reform strategy.
During this period I also developed facilities for pre-clinical investigations, building a programme of metabolic investigation of new therapeutics and supporting development of a pre-clinical imaging programme. These facilities have resulted in measurements and analysis methods for functional MR have being developed and embedded in a range of clinical trials, including early stage trails of novel therapeutics.
With Professor Nandita de Souza and other colleagues we have been successfully gained awards to establish a CR-UK and EPSRC Cancer Imaging Centre, which encompasses the range of imaging modalities and facilitates their integration into clinical studies.