Oncology Central

Developing a ‘Google Earth’ for tumors


In an exclusive interview, Josephine Bunch of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL; London, UK), speaks to Oncology Central about her project which will utilize mass spectrometry imaging to create a Google Earth–like tumor map. The ground-breaking project has been selected by Cancer Research UK to receive £16 million over the next 5 years as part of its Grand Challenge awards; set up to revolutionize the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and help scientists tackle unanswered questions in cancer research.

Can you tell our readers about your career & what led you to where you are today?

  • I completed a PhD in mass spectrometry imaging at Sheffield Hallam University (UK), sponsored by Pfizer Global R&D, before moving to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield for my postdoctoral appointments. During this time, I was awarded an independent Enterprise Fellowship to support commercialization of mass spectrometry imaging activities. I then moved to the University of Birmingham (UK), where I led a research group in mass spectrometry imaging and was a Lecturer in Chemistry and Imaging in the School of Chemistry and Physical Sciences of Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences (PSIBS) Doctoral Training Centre. I joined the National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging at the National Physical Laboratory in 2013, to lead research in MALDI and ambient mass spectrometry imaging.

You are the Principal Scientist and Co-Director of the National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging. Could you tell us a bit about the center and the role mass spectrometry plays in cancer research?

  • NiCE-MSI at NPL is one of the world’s leading mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) centers with a focus on advancing measurement capabilities, establishing metrology for reliability and standardization, supporting UK industry, and training the next generation of scientists and engineers.
    Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) allows molecular chemistry to be visualized in 2D and 3D, from the nano- to the macro-scale, in ambient conditions as well as in real time, and has been utilized to study the distribution of proteins, lipids and drugs in a diverse range of tissues and cells. As such, MSI offers unique opportunities in cancer treatment for measuring disease markers, drug distribution and importantly the molecular changes occurring within tumors throughout treatment. These attributes highlight the excellent potential for MSI to inform treatment decisions and monitor treatment responses to help the development and delivery of therapies that are effective for particular groups of patient.

Josephine recently won the Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge competition, designed to answer the biggest questions in cancer research.

Can you tell us what winning this competition meant to you and your team?

  • This is the most exciting project I have ever been involved with. The scale of the funding offered by Cancer Research UK has allowed us to put together an extremely ambitious program of research, which spans new and exciting work in both physical and life sciences. Across the consortium, we have a strong track record of delivering successful research through a number of smaller multidisciplinary projects and we’re very excited about this new project. We will measure things which have never been measured, using the most advanced instruments in the world and by doing this we will generate new insights into tumor metabolism and cancer progression. We hope that this will lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer.

Your Grand Challenge project will focus on developing a ‘Google Earth’ for tumors to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.
a. Could you give us a brief overview of this project?

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