On May 26th I had a particularly busy day.
First thing in the morning we had the formal opening of the Clinical Hyperpolariser Unit. This is a potentially game changing development led by Professor Kevin Brindle. Pre-clinical experiments performed by Kevin show that this has the potential to increase the signal to noise for detection of specific metabolites by 10,000 times or even 100,000 times.
The approach involves taking a 13C-labelled metabolite and cooling it to 1 Kelvin immediately prior to hyperpolarising it and injecting it into the patient. With a great deal of hard work from individuals at GE Healthcare and from the University Department of Radiology we now have equipment installed to do this in patients. The project has received major financial support from the Wellcome Trust.
It was a normal working day in the Radiology Department so only four individuals (Kevin Brindle and Ferdia Gallagher with John Dineen and Richard Haussman from GE) went downstairs to cut the ribbon while the rest of us watched on a video feed. Attendees included Sir Keith Peters and Mike Crumpton, both of whom were Chairs of the Scientific Advisory Board at Amersham International and were important in supporting the progress of this remarkable idea.
I think there can be no doubt that this really does have the potential for changing the way that we image disease processes such as cancer and is an excellent example of what we should be able to achieve by bringing together industry, academia and clinical medicine. However, the team still has a lot to do to reach the point where we understand how to use this new technology for patient benefit.
I spent much of the rest of the day learning more about public health at Cambridge.
This was the second annual showcase for the University’s Strategic Network, PublicHealth@Cambridge. On this occasion it was attended by Dennis and Mireille Gillings. Dennis is Executive Chairman of Quintiles and made a major donation to the University of North Carolina to found the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He has also funded the Gillings Professorship of Health Management at the Judge Business School here in Cambridge.
The breadth and depth of public health at Cambridge is impressive, and I think the Strategic Network has been very helpful in developing new links across the University and is already making substantial progress in terms of raising our national and international profile in this key area.
When talking to medical students I quite often point out that if they really want to benefit human kind then they should seriously consider a career in public health/epidemiology. An excellent example of the difference it can make was Wednesday’s Staff Round when we heard from Adrian Boyle, an A&E Consultant. He has developed a system of fully anonymised reporting of the location and timing of all violent assaults that present in A&E to the police. The police then use this information to actively police potential trouble spots and also to inform their response to applications to licence premises for the sale of alcohol. This has been associated with a 30% decrease in community violence in Cambridge, which is an extraordinary result. Of course there is no proven causal link, but the nationwide fall in community violence is only 5%, and the data from Cambridge and two other cities taking a similar approach to ours looks persuasive to me.
Our strengths in public health and epidemiology are currently quite dispersed and a long term ambition is to concentrate these in a new build, potentially on the old LMB site once we have completed other major projects.
* Read more about tumour imaging with the Hyperpolariser on the Cambridge Cancer Centre website