The Molecular Diagnostics Theme is focused on improving medicine by better classification of disease, allowing more accurate prediction of patients’ prognosis and better prediction of how they will respond to different treatments. This will help to offer the most suitable treatments to patients with cancer and other diseases.
Our work is divided into four sub-themes, each within the general area of molecular pathology.
In sub-theme 1, we will work on selected types of cancer to identify DNA changes that cause the cancer to grow and to work out how they cause normal cells to acquire the uncontrolled growth, tissue invasion and spread to other organs that typify malignancies. Our specific areas of interest include chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), colorectal (bowel) cancer, endometrial (uterine) cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. We will perform focused studies that add value to the large-scale work of national and international cancer studies.
Sub-theme 2 studies diseases that are often quite benign, yet in a minority of patients can become severe or malignant. We shall use a combination of data types in two conditions: inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease) to develop ways of predicting who is likely to develop severe inflammation or cancer. Those patients can then be offered more intensive treatment or monitoring for complications. Similarly, we shall examine patients with benign polyps of the colorectum (large bowel) to predict who is at greater bowel cancer risk and therefore requires closer surveillance.
Sub-theme 3 addresses the issue of how finely we can develop classifiers of disease. If medicine is to be applied to the maximum benefit, we need to be able to detect quite small differences between patients in how their disease will develop or how they will respond to a particular treatment. This work will include the design and analysis of new strategies to identify and use features of cancers and other diseases that are present in a small proportion of patients, yet accurately guide options for patient care.
The work of sub-theme 4 brings together modern methods of image analysis and molecular profiling to improve the traditional work of pathologists who diagnose and categorise disease based on the appearance of tissue sections or cells under the microscope. This work will require complex mathematical models to be set up to use several types of data to develop the most accurate disease classifiers.
In addition to our specific work plans, our role is a cross-cutting one, in that we will work with and assist several other Oxford BRC themes, including Multi-Modal Cancer Therapies, Gastroenterology and Mucosal Immunity, Genomics Medicine, Haematology, Health/Wealth/Innovation and others.
This reflects the central role that molecular pathology plays in many disease types. Improvement in our field will enhance the care of a very broad range of patients.