OncoEng Kickoff Meeting

The 10th of June marked the beginning of OncoEng, in which academics, early-stage researchers, patient advocates, and representatives from invested companies met in Weetwood Hall, Leeds for the kick-off meeting.

The day began with a welcome and overview of the £7 million project, by Prof. Richard Hall, before Prof. David Sebag-Montefiore, the director of Leeds Cancer Research Centre, presented on the global burden of cancer. This included the disparities in early diagnosis and survival rates between social-economic groups and counties.

To provide a much-needed patient perspective, Christine Allmark, a head and neck (2002) and breast cancer survivor (2019), presented the importance of maintaining communication with patient volunteers throughout the progression of OncoEng. Patients provide valuable direction for the true aims of cancer research, which for terminal metastasized cancer, is usually an improved quality of life.

Dr. Vishal Borse, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospital, gave an insight into the challenges that spinal metastases bring. Through a series of X-ray images, Vishal was able to walk the room through a selection of scenarios he encounters and how they are resolved. This included how they return weight-bearing capabilities to the spinal column, how spinal fractures are treated and the effect of osteoblastic vs osteolytic tumours on the vertebra. OncoEng aims to help surgeons, like Vishal, more accurately identify which vertebra is at risk of fracture, and thus needs surgical intervention. This would help improve a patient’s quality of life by reducing unnecessary pain.

To further limit the impact on a patient’s quality of life, the implants that OncoEng aims to develop will be minimally invasive, reducing recovery times and infection risk. Dr. Connor Myant presented on the use of additive manufacturing to create this minimally invasive implant (MII) and the research challenges in the current technology. To allow for the devices to be minimally invasive, metamaterials will be researched by Dr Rob Hewson and his research group. Metamaterials act differently from the bulk material due to their structure. By 3D printing the implant, with an optimised lattice structure, it will be possible to compress the implant before it expands after deployment, allowing for the possibility of keyhole surgery.

Computational Model of tumour growth by Vavourakis et al, PLoS Comp Biol, 2017

To understand the mechanics of malignant cells metastasis and the growth of tumours, talks were given by Prof. Emad Moeendarbary and Prof. Simon Walker-Samuel respectively. This, alongside the knowledge of vertebra biomechanics, presented by Prof. Anthony Redmond, would assist the mathematical model predict fracture risk. This computational model will be created by Prof. Rebecca Shipley and Prof. Nicholas Ovenden, using cutting-edge imaging to determine the integrity of the patient’s vertebra.

The kick-off meeting brought together a range of stakeholders from the universities, healthcare sector and industry to understand the scope of the collaboration and each other’s specific objective that will collectively achieve the aims of OncoEng. The entire day was summarised by live art illustrator, Jenny Leonard, who highlighted the scope and aims of OncoEng, as can be seen in the featured image.

It is safe to say, we are all excited about the future of OncoEng.