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Research overview

Professor Martin Leach, Magnetic Resonance team

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 Magnetic 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.

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