Business Secretary Greg Clark has today launched the £103m Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI), a national centre of excellence that will harness disruptive technologies such as AI and robotics to improve dramatically our understanding of biology.
The development of the RFI was spearheaded by Oxford's Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Professor Ian Walmsley. Oxford will be one of ten partner universities working alongside the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to deliver the research, which will tackle many of the key challenges in the health and life sciences.
Among the initial projects funded today is the creation of the world's most advanced ultra-fast video camera, which will help researchers develop techniques that use sound and light to detect and treat diseases including some of the most lethal forms of cancer. Led by Oxford's Professor Eleanor Stride, the project is exploring targeted ways of treating cancer that can avoid the side effects of traditional treatments such as chemotherapy.
Professor Walmsley, who is Chair of the RFI's Shadow Board, said: 'The RFI will pioneer disruptive technologies from the physical sciences and new ways of working across disciplines to dramatically improve our understanding in biology, leading to new diagnostics, new drugs and new treatments for millions of patients worldwide.
'It will bring university researchers together with industry experts in a unique facility and embrace high-risk, adventurous research that will ultimately transform the way we develop new diagnostics, therapies and medicines.'
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: 'The new Rosalind Franklin Institute will lead a revolution in drug development and diagnosis to improve the lives of millions of patients. And with over 10 million people in Britain alive today expected to live to 100, now more than ever it is vital that the government invests in the development of new technologies and techniques which will support people to have healthier lives.'
The RFI will operate on a 'hub and spokes' model, with a central hub at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire to be opened in 2020 and delivered by the STFC. Named after the pioneering X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, who was one of the key figures in the discovery of the structure of DNA, the RFI will bring together scientists from across scientific disciplines to develop new techniques and tools that can be applied to biological problems.
The RFI is an independent organisation funded by the UK government through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.
World's best video camera to develop cures for deadliest cancers
The RFI today launched an ambitious new project to build the world's most advanced real-time, high-speed video camera – the key to understanding new techniques that use light and sound to treat some of the most lethal forms of cancer with minimal side effects.
The camera will be able to image tissue with greater sensitivity and at higher resolution than any other instrument currently available. It will be developed through a collaboration between an academic team at the University of Oxford, a UK SME specialising in high-speed imaging called Invisible Vision, and a consortium of UK and international researchers working in biomedical applications of light and sound. Once completed it will be housed at the new RFI hub being built at the Harwell research complex for use by researchers in the UK and the rest of the world.
Project lead Professor Eleanor Stride, from Oxford's Institute of Biomedical Engineering, said: 'A major challenge with current delivery methods for cancer drugs is that they rely on the active molecules reaching and entering the tumour cells by diffusion. This makes it difficult to ensure that all parts of a tumour are treated and leads to terrible side effects because large volumes of healthy tissue also absorb the drug. We need to find a better way to get these drugs into cancer cells specifically, quickly and effectively.
'The approach we're developing introduces harmless particles into the bloodstream and then uses ultrasound to activate them, in order both to release the drug at a specific site and helping to drive it into the tumour to reach all of the cells within it.'
The new instrument will be a key part of the RFI's INSIGHT laboratory, which will be devoted to developing technology for imaging and therapy at the intersection of light and sound. It will be the first camera in the world able to capture up to 100 million individual frames per second at 1 megapixel resolution and to operate across a wide optical spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. This one-of-a-kind camera will enable researchers to see how ultrasound interacts with drug-loaded particles and tissue and how that enables controlled uptake of drugs into cancer cells. The camera will help researchers to understand the biophysical mechanisms behind drug delivery – critical to perfecting ultrasound-targeted drug delivery.
Professor Stride added: 'Most current devices are limited to the optical part of the spectrum or look at specific wavelengths. This camera will be flexible, able to look at the full spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared, which means we'll be able to see more detail and get higher resolution images than ever before. It will help us see how the ultrasound affects the particles and how exactly it helps improve the drug delivery and allow us to develop the treatment to make it more effective.'