Further information on Imaging and Molecular Pathology themes

We are developing PET, MRI, ultrasound, and optical biomarkers for disease diagnosis and improved tumour characterisation. Computer-aided whole body machine learning/deep learning research in collaboration with Imperial College’s department of computing, will transform our research and clinical services from manual to digital diagnosis in the future. We are developing biomarkers that detect cancers with increased expression of cell surface and nuclear receptors (e.g, HER2), complementing conventional cross-sectional imaging for improved diagnosis and staging, in particular changes of disease heterogeneity in the transition from primary to metastatic cancer. Improving tumour characterisation enables better stratification for treatment. In this regard we are using molecular imaging outputs in the context of ‘radiomics’ as prognostic biomarkers particular in ovarian cancer, colorectal and lung cancer. We are leading/supporting large clinical trials to implement new biomarker strategies in cancer.

Our chemistry and radiochemistry programmes, collaboratively with Imperial's Department of Chemistry, provide models for translation. We are developing a number of biomarkers to predict responses to treatment earlier than conventional cross-sectional imaging, particularly in breast, prostate, neuroendocrine, ovarian, brain, liver and plasma cell cancer. We are developing different receptor and metabolic radiopharmaceuticals for the assessment of caspase-3/7 activation, cell proliferation, integrin avb3/5 expression, somatostatin receptor-2 expression, fatty acid oxidation, glycogenesis, and choline metabolism pre-clinically and in patients. We are also profiling, via molecular imaging, CXCR4 expression, PSMA expression, EGFR expression and T790M mutational status, immune checkpoint control, and the status of hypoxia and DNA damage response in pre-clinical studies. These methods and probes together with anatomical imaging allow us to assess how a tumour is progressing or how a patient is responding to treatment, paving the way to personalised medicine.

The unique nature of in vivo imaging in assessing target modulation or cognate biochemical pathway alteration with/without treatment in the whole organism (tumour and healthy tissues) is allowing us to collaborate with scientists within the division of cancer in the development of new therapies and to study the evolution of drug resistance. Collaborations with the metabolic biochemistry group within the division of cancer, using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance, allow further interrogation of whole body imaging output.

Non-invasive therapies lead to fewer complications and require less post-procedure recovery. We are developing non-invasive alternatives to surgery or external beam radiotherapy including targeted ultrasound methods with the dual aim of improving detection and therapy - focused tumour ablation - and we are now investigating disease areas where such techniques could be most beneficial to patients. We are developing ultrasound micro- and nano-devices for imaging and targeted therapy in collaboration with Imperial College’s bioengineering and chemistry departments. We are also turning our imaging methods that demonstrate selective tumour localisation capabilities in pre-clinical and initial clinical studies, into radiopharmaceuticals for targeted therapy (‘theranostics’), e.g., for peptide receptor radiotherapy.

As indicated above, molecular imaging is a continuum with molecular pathology. The molecular pathology unit provides the following services to support clinical (and pre-clinical) research in the department: a) Cutting and staining of sections from frozen or FFPE tissue blocks, b) Extraction of RNA, DNA and protein from frozen or FFPE tissue, c) Preparation of Tissue Microarrays, d) Immunocytochemical staining, e) Imaging of stained sections, f) Advice on design of clinical trials where biospecimens are collected, g) Provision of SOPs on tissue collection, quality assurance and further processing for clinical trials, h) miRNA array, i) qRT-PCR. In view of the unique strength, the molecular pathology team is involved in identification of molecular profiles in high grade breast cancer (miRNA and BAC aCGH). The team also specialises in systems oncology of radiation induced thyroid cancer and coordinates the Chernobyl Tissue Bank.