The Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Birmingham Centre will be funded from 1st April 2017 for 5 years alongside the Birmingham Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre. Its explicit aim is to catalyse translationally aligned fundamental discovery science in oncology and novel therapeutic developments originating from this research, contributing to CRUK’s strategic target of increasing cancer survival rates from 50% to 75% within the next 10 years. The CRUK Birmingham Centre will focus on increasing understanding of oncogenesis and tumour immunobiology, providing the scientific basis for novel targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and stratification approaches. Centre funding (~£4. 5M over 5 years, split between a PhD studentship programme, infrastructure positions, and a pump-priming Development fund) will build strategically on a total of ~ £25M of local funding per year in the cancer field, a substantial portion of which is from CRUK. CRUK Birmingham Centre and ECMC activities will be coordinated by a Cancer Strategy Board under the umbrella of Birmingham Health Partners, which unites the University of Birmingham with key local clinical partners, including University Hospitals Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Within the University of Birmingham (UoB), CRUK Birmingham Centre activities will predominantly reside within the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, spanning the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences and the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy. Externally to UoB, they involve close interactions with clinical partners, focussed significantly on clinical academics based at University Hospitals Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The CRUK Birmingham Centre will also be strategically aligned to the Institute for Translational Medicine, a £25M facility on the Birmingham campus with a significant focus on expediting translational advances in stratified medicine and cancer research. Specifically, the CRUK Birmingham Centre’s Infrastructure Hub, comprising many of the core Centre positions, will be collocated alongside aligned ECMC positions in ITM space, forming a powerful multidisciplinary translational cancer research hub for Centre groups to access.
The Digital Pathology Analyst will be a core infrastructure post within the CRUK Birmingham Centre and will have strong links and involvement with services offered by the Human Biomaterials Resource Centre (HBRC), which resides within the Advanced Therapies Facility (ATF) in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. The HBRC is an HTA licensed, ethically approved human sample biorepository, dedicated to the collection and storage of appropriately consented, quality-assured human biomaterials for distribution to biomedical research groups both in academia and industry. The facility provides sample processing, tissue based histological and analytical services, and hosts valuable sample collections (including samples collected from participants in clinical trials). The role of the HBRC is to facilitate the funding and expedition of high quality clinical research. It is a valuable resource, not only for local scientists, but also for researchers throughout the UK and EU, including the commercial sector. The HBRC is a quality controlled environment regulated by both the MHRA and the HTA.
The post holder will be administratively part of the ATF and will have responsibility for further developing the immune-phenotyping analytical services (chiefly immunohistochemistry, multispectral immunofluorescence, and in situ hybridisation) with a strong emphasis on the application and expansion of digital analysis methods. He/she will work closely with the Birmingham CRUK Centre leads (Prof Willcox, scientific director, Prof Middleton, clinical director), the Centre Management Grouping and the Centre Academic Pathologist to prioritise and plan work in this area. In addition, the post-holder will maintain close links with the recently funded ECMC via the ECMC director (Morton) and theme leads. The overall focus of the work will be on samples from cancer patients with solid tumours, however there will be a wider impact in chronic inflammatory conditions and other settings as appropriate. The role will primarily focus on human tissues (including patient samples and samples being analysed as part of clinical trials), but may also encompass some work on pre-clinical models (e.g. images of mouse tumour material and primary human tumour cell lines).
He/she will report to the Director of the ATF, to Professor Ben Willcox, and to the CRUK Management Grouping, and is expected to interact closely with other staff working within the Centre Infrastructure Hub, and also in the ATF (particularly those involved with the provision of tissue processing and analysis services), with local researchers, pathology staff and clinicians. Particularly close links will be maintained with the Research Theme Leads for Genomics, Immunology and Virology, with relevant clinical academic leads, and also with the Department of Cellular Pathology at the neighbouring University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. A significant part of the time may be spent working alongside local Pathologists to optimise and validate digital pathology analysis methods (generation of new digital scoring algorithms, validating multiplex staining analyses, quantitating specific cellular subsets and expression of target markers). It is anticipated that some time may also be spent liaising with external commercial companies regarding digital scoring for collaborative UoB/industry projects, one example being interaction with Perkin Elmer on the subject of multispectral immunofluoresence imaging approaches, an area where Birmingham has a Key Opinion Leader agreement established.
It is envisaged that this post will contribute significantly to the identification and clinical validation of predictive biomarkers which will greatly facilitate the transition of academic studies locally into clinical trials. It will also enable the ATF and its clients to extract maximum value from the services available, stimulating academic collaborations and establishing Birmingham as a centre of excellence for digital immune phenotyping. Ultimately, there is the potential to establish a range of GCP-compliant diagnostic/prognostic and immune-monitoring assays which could be applied to clinical trials. This would be a major attraction to industry.
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