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New UL Research Centre to Drive Next Generation Cancer Treatment

University of Limerick (UL) is collaborating with University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to establish a new cancer research centre that aims to use digital technologies to improve the treatment of cancer in Ireland.

The Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre will combine UL’s expertise in technology and health with UHL’s expertise in oncology to find innovative ways of treating cancer and improving outcomes for patients.

Backed by industry knowledge from big players such as Dell and medical device company BD, the research centre will use personalised digital medicine and diagnostics to help cancer patients in the mid-west region as well as the rest of Ireland.

A Limerick Living Lab will use high-powered microscopy and state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to digitally profile biopsies taken from a patient’s cancerous tissues.

Prof Paul Murray, who leads the Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre as scientific director, said, “the technology can learn to predict how an individual will respond to a specific type of drug. This will in future allow clinicians to tailor patient treatment which will improve patient outcome and spare them from potentially life-threatening side effects of the toxic cancer drugs, while at the same time, saving the health service the unnecessary expense associated with the use of ineffective therapies.”

Minister Simon Harris TD, praised the centre for its ambitious aim to better understand cancer at the cellular and molecular level and drive development of the next generation of digital diagnostics in Ireland, stating, “we need to be ambitious. New, innovative diagnostics like the ones that will be developed here, will make it possible to deliver better outcomes and improve the quality of life for patients.”

UHL is one of eight designated cancer centres under the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme. UL Hospitals Group CEO Colette Cowan said that the mid-western cancer centre has seen a considerable increase in activity in recent years – with a 54pc rise in attendances at the haematology oncology day ward between 2010 and 2019.

This, she said, corresponds with a 45pc increase in outpatient attendances over the same period. “Currently, it is estimated that one in two Irish adults will receive a cancer diagnosis in their own lifetimes and our growing and rapidly ageing population represents a huge challenge for our cancer services and for society as a whole.”

Some of the areas of cancer research at the centre will include the development of mobile medical apps, and software to assist doctors’ decision-making. The Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre will also use statistics, AI and machine learning for the large-scale mining of genomics and molecular data.

Speaking of the university’s role in the centre, UL president Prof Kerstin Mey said, “UL is well placed to respond, with world-leading expertise in cancer biology, artificial intelligence, big data analysis and digital technologies. We are uniquely positioned to deliver a truly multidisciplinary cancer centre, which can deliver better outcomes for patients and transform cancer care.”

Limerick native Prof Aedin Culhane, who was a senior research scientist at Harvard University for more than 15 years, has joined the centre as a researcher. She has also joined the faculty of UL’s School of Medicine as a professor of cancer genomics.

Culhane said, “cancer is a complex disease, and these tools allow us to perform detailed dissection of the molecules in cancer cells, so we can understand how our healthy cells, immune cells and cancer cells are interacting and tailor cancer treatments. This is an incredibly exciting time in cancer research. We are making new insights every day, especially in immune oncology.”

Source: IDA Ireland

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