Matthew Blackledge Cohort Four participant

Matthew Blackledge

Institute of Cancer Research

Matthew Blackledge

Next generation whole-body imaging for painful metastatic disease

We are developing new software that will change the way advanced painful cancers are monitored during treatment using MRI. Our software will provide clinicians with crucial insights on how individual tumours that have spread throughout the body behave differently during treatment so that therapy can be tailored to each patient

Pain is often the first symptom for patients with advanced cancer that has spread to the skeleton. Not only do bone tumours cause fractures and spinal cord compression that may lead to paralysis, but currently the disease is incurable due to so-called ‘tumour heterogeneity’. Tumour heterogeneity is the phenomenon by which different tumours, or sub-regions within the same tumour, respond differently to the same treatment, and commonly results in treatment failure. There is currently no accepted way to monitor tumour heterogeneity, thereby preventing any treatment adaptation that could keep the disease in check.

Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is a type of MRI scanning technology that can be very sensitive in detecting cancers throughout the skeleton. It uniquely provides an estimate of the ‘apparent diffusion coefficient’ (ADC), a non-invasive surrogate measure of tumour cell density. Tracking changes in ADC following treatment is a practical and effective way to see whether the treatment is having an effect. However, no software yet exists for extracting objective measurements of tumour heterogeneity from the complex information contained within DWI images, and consequently guiding towards the most appropriate treatment adaptation.

To enable progress in this area, we are developing software using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and graphical techniques that provides automatic measurement of the level of tumour heterogeneity using DWI. We aim to develop this prototype into a medical device and test this software in a cohort study of prostate cancer patients where disease has spread to the bone.

Apply for Cohort Four

Focusing on novel solutions that address the Future of Pain our Challenge Accelerator Programme offers a salary replacement to take six-months (full-time) away from the lab to develop a medical technology into a business venture. The programme offers entrepreneurship masterclasses, specialist advice, access to co-working space and an allowance for travel and consumables (up to £45,000).

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