Research director : Professor Christofer Toumazou FRS

Research team : Dr Melpomeni Kalofonou, Dr Benjamin Evans, Dr Mohammadreza Sohbati, Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano, Dr Konstantin Nikolic, Professor Christofer Toumazou.

Our research at the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology is focused on the application of microchip sensing technologies for early screening, detection and monitoring of cancer markers, with the ultimate goal being the development of systems assisting at the point of need aiming for the personalization of cancer therapy. Primary focus is on the areas of:

Early detection of endocrine resistance in breast cancer: In the UK, the majority of patients with breast cancer have no evidence of distant spread (metastases) at the time of diagnosis. Surgery is capable of removing the primary cancer, but evidence has now shown that small numbers of cancer cells seed throughout the body (micrometastases), while remaining undetectable by diagnostic scans. These often persist despite medical treatment given after surgery and can grow and spread over time if left unchecked. It is thus apparent that monitoring of residual disease in breast cancer could provide maximum benefit to the patient, through an easily accessible test that could survey the evolving tumour genetic profile and could guide more targeted treatment decisions. To date, the methods used for prediction of risk of metastasis do not monitor residual disease or provide a good lead interval before the development of metastases, require tumour samples collected at surgery or at biopsy, delivered to pathology labs, analysed by specialized equipment with results to take up to several days to become available. The aim is therefore the development of systems assisting at the point of need, capable of measuring early signs of breast cancer in blood circulation that could enable monitoring of early indication of residual disease, prediction of relapse and monitoring of response to treatment. This would enable the realization of a more ‘curative’, well-stratified, patient-centric therapy model.

This project is in collaboration with Prof Charles Coombes (Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London) and Prof Jacqui Shaw (Department of Cancer Studies, University of Leicester) whose research has demonstrated that tumour specific changes (copy number variations (CNV’s) and mutations) can be detected in circulating-free DNA in blood, indicating early disease progression, response/resistance to treatment and can in-parallel distinguish active, progressive and minimal disease in breast cancer patients.

Breath analysis for oesophago-gastric cancer detection: Only 35% of patients with oesophago-gastric cancer are currently treated with curative intent, whereas 15% of those operable patients have Stage I cancer. The five-year survival for oesophageal and gastric cancer is 13% and 18% respectively in the UK, among the worst in Europe, demonstrating the clinical consequences of this diagnostic challenge. Our ultimate goal is to develop a hand-held, Point-of-Care device that can detect and analyse Volatile Organic Components (VOCs) in breath, to evaluate the risk of oesophago-gastric cancer and suggest the need for further endoscopic investigation.

This project is part of an ongoing collaboration with Prof George Hanna from St Mary’s Hospital and his group, world leading experts in breathomics for oesophago-gastric cancer. A series of studies have already been conducted, which have identified statistically significant differences in the concentration of twelve VOCs from three chemical groups (aldehydes, fatty acids and phenols) from the exhaled breath of patients with oesophago-gastric cancer compared with a control group. Our research in the Centre for Bio-Inspired Technology involves the development of a prototype for VOC breath profiling, providing thus information necessary to determine and quantify the risk of oesophago-gastric cancer. Final diagnostic recommendation will be determined using an information theory based machine learning algorithm developed in our group by Dr Nikolic and his research team, which has been successfully implemented on other biological problems, e.g. identification of receptive field vectors (RFVs) for retinal ganglion cell types.

Both applications will require the utilization of sensory based systems for screening of cancer markers. Utilising the group’s expertise in the development of Lab-on-Chip diagnostic platforms, integrating arrays of silicon chip-based chemical sensors, also known as Ion-Sensitive Field-Effect Transistors (ISFETs), combined with microelectronics in CMOS, we can identify changes in chemical reactions related to biomedical applications in a way which gives robustness to sensor characteristics while improving accuracy of detection. Specifically in the area of diagnostics and disease prevention, where the emergence of smart sensory systems is evident, the capability for these integrated systems to perform intelligent sensing and actuation would improve significantly the speed for decision making at the point of need.