New UL research centre to ‘drive next generation’ of cancer treatment

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The University of Limerick (UL) is collaborating with the University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to establish a new cancer research centre that aims to use digital technologies to improve the treatment of cancer in Ireland.

The Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre will combine UL’s expertise in technology and health with UHL’s expertise in oncology to find innovative ways of treating cancer and improving outcomes for patients.

Backed by industry knowledge from big players such as Dell and medical device company Becton Dickenson, the research centre will use personalised digital medicine and diagnostics to help cancer patients in the mid-west region as well as the rest of Ireland.

Minister Simon Harris, TD, said praised the centre for its “ambitious” aim to better understand cancer at the cellular and molecular level and drive development of “the next generation of digital diagnostics” in Ireland.

“We need to be ambitious. New, innovative diagnostics like the ones that will be developed here, will make it possible to deliver better outcomes and improve the quality of life for patients.”

‘Huge challenge’ for cancer services

UHL is one of eight designated cancer centres under the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme. UL Hospitals CEO Colette said that the mid-western cancer centre has seen a “considerable increase” in activity in recent years – with a 54pc rise in attendances at the haematology oncology day ward between 2010 and 2019.

This, she said, corresponds with a 45pc increase in outpatient attendances over the same period. “Currently, it is estimated that one in two Irish adults will receive a cancer diagnosis in their own lifetimes and our growing and rapidly ageing population represents a huge challenge for our cancer services and for society as a whole,” she said.

Some of the areas of cancer research at the centre will include the development of mobile medical apps, software to assist doctors’ decision-making, the use of statistics, AI and machine learning, as well as mining genomics and molecular data at scale.

Speaking of the university’s role in the centre, UL president Prof Kerstin Mey said: “UL is well placed to respond, with world-leading expertise in cancer biology, artificial intelligence, big data analysis and digital technologies. We are uniquely position to deliver a truly multi-disciplinary cancer centre, which can deliver better outcomes for patients and transform cancer care.”

Limerick native Prof Aedin Culhane, who was a senior research scientist at Harvard University for more than 15 years, has joined the centre as a researcher. She has also joined the faculty of UL’s School of Medicine as a professor of cancer genomics.

“Cancer is a complex disease, and these tools allow us to perform detailed dissection of the molecules in cancer cells, so we can understand how our healthy cells, immune cells and cancer cells are interacting and tailor cancer treatments,” Culhane said.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in cancer research, we are making new insights every day, especially in immune oncology.”

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