UCL Engineering


World Cancer Day: How is Engineering helping those with cancer?

4 February 2024

This World Cancer Day, we are showcasing the ways in which UCL's innovative research in Engineering is helping those living with cancer, as well as improving diagnosis and working towards a cure.

Cancer cell invading tissue

Understanding how cancer spreads in the body

The biomechanics of how cancer cells escape from the bloodstream to invade other organs was recently described for the first time by researchers from UCL, MIT and their collaborators. 

Most cancer research focuses on spotting cancers early and treating them before they spread, which has resulted in improved outcomes for patients. But once a cancer has metastasised it becomes much harder to treat, underlined by the fact that metastasis is a factor in the vast majority of cancer deaths. Though metastasised cancers can be treated, they cannot be cured.

In this study, researchers from UCL and MIT set out to better understand the biomechanical forces that determine how cancer cells are able to invade other tissues from the bloodstream.

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Detecting oesophageal cancer with AI

The first procedure in the world using the AI technology was performed at University College Hospital by UCLH consultant gastroenterologist Dr Rehan Haidry. The system, called CADU, uses AI to support doctors in identifying cancerous tissue.

CADU achieved regulatory approval at the start of 2021 making it the first medical device using AI for oesophageal cancer to be CE and UKCA approved for use on patients.

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Lighting up tumours could help surgeons remove them more precisely

A new technique that combines highly detailed, real-time images of inside the body with a type of infrared light has, for the first time, been used during surgery to differentiate between cancerous tumours and healthy tissue.

The pioneering technique, demonstrated in mice, has been developed by engineers at the Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) at UCL and surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Researchers say the development could have implications for treating neuroblastoma, which is the most common form of solid cancer tumour, other than brain tumours, found in children. Standard treatment typically involves surgery to completely remove cancerous cells, which can be difficult to see as they look similar to the surrounding healthy tissue.

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UCL researchers exhibit drug monitoring device that calculates level of cancer medication in patients' blood 

A new drug-monitoring tool, developed by a consortium including UCL researchers, calculates how much cancer medicine is in a patient’s blood to help reduce heart problems and other side effects experienced by children in the UK who receive chemotherapy drugs.

It is hoped the ChromaDose device will help to reduce the incidence of life-limiting health complications, such as heart problems and other treatment-related side effects experienced by up to 65% of the 10,000 children in the UK who have received anti-cancer medicines. The device will help doctors to calculate tailored doses for future patients.

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Engineering quality of life for people with advanced cancers

A major £7 million research collaboration between UCL, the University of Leeds and Imperial College London has been launched to develop a new imaging and keyhole surgery approach to treating secondary bone tumours of the spine.

Patient imaging and computer modelling will enable researchers to track tumour development in the spine over time and how it might be weakening individual vertebrae. This information would be compared with the loading on the spine, enabling clinicians to predict which of the vertebrae are at risk of fracturing.


  • Credit: Emad Moeendarbary, UCL