The UK will be transformed into an international radiotherapy research hub with the creation of a new £56 million network, Cancer Research UK has announced.
The network, Cancer Research UK RadNet, is the charity’s largest ever investment in the field.
Its aim is to accelerate the development of advanced radiotherapy techniques, and challenge the boundaries of the treatment through exploratory projects.
It will see seven centres across the country unite: the Universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford, the Cancer Research UK City of London Centre and The Institute of Cancer Research, London in partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Radiotherapy is a cornerstone of cancer medicine, with around three in 10 patients receiving it as part of their primary treatment.
“The launch of our network marks a new era of radiotherapy research in the UK.
“Scientists will combine advances in our understanding of cancer biology with cutting-edge technology to make this treatment more precise and effective than ever before.”
Radiotherapy works by targeting tumours with x-ray radiation, killing cancer cells by irreversibly damaging their DNA.
Researchers in the new network will also focus on reducing the long-term side effects associated with the treatment.
More than 130,000 patients are treated with radiotherapy on the NHS every year.
By optimising and personalising radiotherapy, Cancer Research UK RadNet aims to improve cancer survival.
It will work towards developing new techniques for delivering radiotherapy and investigate new radiotherapy-drug combinations, including immunotherapies.
Among other things, the research will look at exploring Flash radiotherapy, where pulses of high-dose of radiation are delivered in a fraction of a second.
It will also conduct further investigations into proton beam therapy, and ways to overcome hypoxia – low oxygen levels within tumours, resulting from rapid cancer growth that blood vessels can’t keep up with.
Some £13 million has been allocated to form new research groups and fund additional PhD students in Manchester, London and Cambridge.
The network will promote collaboration between diverse scientific fields, with a share of £4 million available to all centres for joint research projects, conferences and secondments between locations.