The Engineering and Physical Research Sciences Council (EPSRC) announced on 16th December 2015 it would be funding the University of Glasgow-led Multiscale Soft Tissue Mechanics (SofTMech) research centre. SofTMech is one of the five centres announced today by UK Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman as part of a £10m investment in the EPSRC Mathematical Sciences in Healthcare initiative. The research centre’s funding will run for four years.
The centre will bring together mathematicians, engineers, biologists and clinicians to develop new methods to study the development of certain types of cancers and heart diseases such as the changes that occur in the heart after a heart attack.
One of their aims is to provide the building blocks for a future system which would allow clinicians to perform ‘virtual surgeries’, where models of several treatments could be run ahead of time, providing vital feedback on which treatment is likely to be the most effective.
SofTMech will be led by Professor Ray Ogden, the University of Glasgow’s George Sinclair Chair of Mathematics and one of the world’s leading experts on the biomechanics of soft biological tissue. The centre will also be supported by researchers from the UK, Europe, China and the US as well as industrial partners.
Professor Ogden said: “The mechanics of soft tissues are complex and fascinating. Understanding and modelling how tissues, such as artery walls and the wall of the heart, respond to forces at a cellular level in a healthy body helps the clinicians to develop more targeted tools to treat problems which affect soft tissues. Models developed by contributors to the project, including myself, are already being widely used in the research and commercial sectors.
“What we’re aiming to do is develop models for soft tissue all the way from single cells to complete organs which will allow healthcare providers to provide care more effectively targeted to the people they are treating. For example, we know that the properties of heart tissue change dramatically after a heart attack and that softer cells migrate more easily around the body, helping cancer to spread. The models we will build will help to find new ways to repair damaged hearts on a cellular level and more effectively measure the effects of drugs on cells affected by cancer.
“The research centre we’ve organised will be well-suited to helping us solve these difficult problems. We’re particularly lucky in Glasgow alone in that we have access to many world-leading researchers and their facilities in places like the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre, the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence and the Stratified Scotland Medicine Innovation Centre, all of which will play a role in the project.
“Our international partners from academia, healthcare and industry will also play a vital role in helping us achieve our goals, and we’re looking forward to working with them over the next four years.”
George Freeman, Minister for Life Sciences, said: “Maths and statistics aren’t the first sciences that come to mind when we talk about healthcare innovation. But they have a very important part to play in developing 21st century solutions to the challenges facing clinicians every day in the NHS. That’s why we are investing £10 million in five new Mathematical Sciences in Healthcare Research Centres up and down the country, to help doctors gain a better understanding of diseases, make faster diagnoses and plan better, more targeted treatment for patients.”
Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “Maths research provides the foundation for so much of science and engineering, and new technologies, but this often goes unrecognised by those who benefit from results. These five new Mathematical Sciences in Healthcare Centres will lead the way in developing mathematical and statistical modelling for predicting the progression of diseases both in individuals and populations, as well as planning treatment strategies. The Centres will help us deal with the clinical and economic challenges facing the UK’s healthcare system as the population ages.”
The other four centres announced at the same time will be led by the Universities of Cambridge, Exeter, Liverpool and London. The centres will explore how mathematics and statistics can help clinicians to tackle serious health challenges such as cancer, heart disease and antibiotic resistant bacteria.