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Irish research team playing critical role in ground-breaking brain cancer project, GLADIATOR

TECHNOLOGY experts in Waterford are bidding to tackle one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer using miniature, implantable devices. TSSG is Ireland’s only research hub involved in €6 million brain cancer project.

Brain cancer survival and recovery rates could be significantly improved as telecoms experts at Waterford Institute of Technology’s Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) partner with universities world-wide on the potentially life-changing GLADIATOR project.

Together, they’re developing miniature devices that interface with engineered cells, bio-nanomachines, to detect as well as treat the cancer from inside the brain.

Engineering cells into bio-nanomachines involves the use of synthetic biology to design specific functions in living cells, and in this particular case, the secretion of molecules that can be used to detect and treat the tumour.

The devices, when implanted in the brain, will be controlled from an external wireless device that will collect information, which should enable a futuristic automated theranostic (therapeutic + diagnostic) solution for treating Glioblastoma Multiforme, a type of brain cancer that can kill within weeks.

GLADIATOR is a paradigm shift in Oncology, with the introduction of “bio-nano-machine diagnostics”. It will stimulate the greater use of the “Internet of Bio-Nano Things”, leading to technological and clinical developments with high socioeconomic impact, Principal Investigator and Director of Research at TSSG, Dr. Sasitharan Balasubramaniam predicts.

TSSG’s specific role in GLADIATOR is to look at the molecular communications side of matters. Molecular Communications is the emerging discipline of exploring the transmission of encoded messages via engineered cells. This will allow artificial networks of bio-nanomachines to communicate, and when externally controlled, can be used to not only extract information on the status of the cancer but also manipulate it to affect its progression, Dr. Balasubramaniam said.

“The comprehensive theranostic solution for brain malignancies is set to be a significant medical breakthrough. Currently, highly complex malignancies such as brain tumours have a very grim prognosis, despite recent progress in their treatment and management,” he added.

GLADIATOR’s mission is to radically and dramatically change cancer monitoring and therapy, TSSG’s Dr. Michael Barros said. “Surgery for this form of brain cancer is very traumatic as the cancer is embedded deep within the brain. GLADIATOR aims to use wireless signals to control implanted bio-nanomachine engineered cells within the brain for sensing and treatment, and to send signals back to an external computing device that will determine the next best course of action.

“Moreover, the innovative biological and nanotechnology-based innovations, development methods, computational and analytical tools advanced through GLADIATOR, are expected to have significant economic impact, since they can enter into particular market segments as indicated by global market projections and underlying drivers,” Dr. Barros explained.

“The project team will also examine the circuitry design, the power and communication requirements etc of these tiny implantable devices and how to interface to the bio-nanomachines that will interact with the cancer,” Dr Barros added.

The €6 million Horizon 2020-funded project will substantially improve patient prognosis and prolong their survival, the GLADIATOR partners say.

GLADIATOR is already underway and the 4 year-long project sees ICT experts at TSSG working with six other vibrant academic centres across Cyprus (University of Cyprus), Finland (University of Oulu), Norway (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Germany (Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering), USA (Michigan State Univerity) and Japan (Osaka University) and a nano-biotechnology SME EPOS-IASIS from Cyprus.

It is expected that the project’s results will substantially improve patient prognosis and prolong survival by minimising recurrences and reducing drug toxicity. Extended life expectancy and productivity, shorter hospitalisations, and less personnel and caregiver involvement will also have a positive effect on the already overstrained Health Care Systems.

Specifically, GLADIATOR will provide, for the first time, a working prototype of a complete, autonomous and clinically applicable, nanonetwork-based, theranostic system based on the conceptual framework of Externally Controllable Molecular Communications (ECMC), Dr Barros revealed.

TSSG is a renowned hub of innovation in ICT and its role in molecular communications and health in particular, has been growing since 2008.

About TSSG

Waterford Institute of Technology’s (WIT) research and innovation wing Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG) is a major driver in the emergence of a telecommunications industry in the South East of Ireland. In the last five years alone, TSSG has secured funding in excess of €100 million under EU Programmes, making it one of the most successful ICT research centres in Ireland.

TSSG has a proven track record in translating world class research into market ready products and services and has established an eco-system of mobile service companies in the South East of Ireland and beyond, creating several hundred jobs directly and indirectly in the last ten years.

TSSG, the ICT centre of excellence established 20 years ago, currently consists of over 80 research scientists and engineers, 25 postgraduate students to PhD level and manages an active international network in excess of 700 partners from industry, academic and research institutes spread across 35 countries worldwide. Together, they’re working on over 600 projects.

Through collaboration with industry, TSSG leverages funding to create real job opportunities in strategically important industries such as ICT, pharmaceutical and healthcare and energy. The aim of TSSG is to work closely with industry to create new jobs through the development of our core research, strong connectivity with indigenous industry as well as large multinationals, supporting high potential start-ups and partnerships with other institutes. TSSG has created a critical mass of ICT industries in the South East of Ireland and will continue to be a hub for telecommunications excellence both in Ireland and abroad.

At a higher level, TSSG has over 20 years’ experience in large scale platform specification (architecturally) and development (e.g. www.ict-societies.eu) of enabling technologies to ensure inter-system communication. It has years of experience in development of solutions from scenario to use case to implementation. Additionally, through its security research work in TSSG, it has completed projects which require implementation of regulatory-compliant, secure, technologies. Note technology solutions developed by TSSG cover all aspects of the research lifecycle, from Basic Research through to Commercial Development.

In addition, TSSG has a dedicated software verification and validation group which can manage large scale integration and test from initial requirements through to final deployment.