Oncological Engineering

Oncological Engineering | Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences | University of Leeds

Approximately 2 million people are living with cancer in the UK and this number is set to rise considerably over the next decade to 3.2M.

A significant complication of late stage (stage 4) cancer is metastases or secondary tumours which are caused by tumour cells spreading to different locations in the body. Metastases are particularly associated with breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in females and the leading cause of cancer deaths in this group.

Figures vary but some studies put a figure of about 50-60 % of patients will have bone metastases in late stage cancer. The tumours weaken the bone and lead to a variety of problems for the patients at a time when quality of life is a paramount consideration, especially as the prognosis is usually terminal.

Significant issues include severe pain and spinal fracture which made lead to spinal cord injury. These complications often require major surgery which encroaches, significantly, on the patients' quality of life, when life expectancy is a matter of months and may, in certain cases, provide a mechanism of further spread of the cancer.

Currently, there are no implants for supporting the bones before fracture as we cannot identify which vertebrae are likely to fail. OncoEng will deliver a paradigm shift in the current treatment technologies and stratification of care based on the application of core enabling engineering technologies. A more patient-friendly approach is realised in OncoEng in which we predict which vertebrae with tumours are likely to fail in the future enabling informed decision on care.

Advanced computational modelling and imaging will be used to look at the growth of the tumour so that predictions of the strength of the vertebrae can be calculated a different points in time. These strengths can then be compared to spinal loads and an assessment of fracture risk undertaken. Those vertebrae at his risk would then receive special implant to support the weakened bone and prevent fracture. This implant would only require key-hole surgery and would not impinge on the patient's quality of life through a lengthy recuperation period or additional pain. The research proposed responds to the Cancer Strategy in the NHS Long Term Plan and the EU's Beating Cancer Plan.


Potential Impact

New imaging and software for prediction of spinal fracture in metastatic bone disease in the spine. Novel minimally invasive implant supporting weakened metastases-infiltrated bone. New advanced testing incorporating real world data. Development of novel printing technology

Project website