Research group wins €10m grant to develop revolutionary cancer treatment robot

26 October 2023

European Research Council logo
European Research Council logo

Professor Kaspar Althoefer, a leading expert in medical robotics and artificial intelligence at Queen Mary, is part of a research group that has been awarded a highly competitive €10m European Research Council Synergy Grant.

Synergy Grants provide funding for groups of two to four principal investigators to jointly address ambitious and complex research problems.

The grant connects Prof Althoefer with three other professors based in Italy and the UK, to form the ENDOTHERANOSTICS PI Group, who will harness their complementary expertise to develop a pioneering new robot, which aims to improve the screening and treatment of colorectal cancer (colon cancer and rectal cancer, which are often grouped together).

Working collaboratively, the group plan to develop a perceptive robot with painless sensing, imaging and operating capabilities, with a sleeve-like structure that will be able to extend deep into the colon. The robot will act as a channel to transfer miniaturized instruments for diagnosis and therapy to the remote site within the colon.

With these capabilities, the system will be able to offer:

  • Painless colon cleansing in preparation for endoscopy.
  • Real-time polyp detection and tissue characterization through AI-assisted multimodal imaging.
  • Effective removal of polyps by conveying a 'miniature mobile operating chamber,' equipped with microsurgical tools.

Colorectal cancer is forecasted to cause 1.6 million deaths per year by 2040, according to the World Health Organisation. Despite some advances in medical technology, interventions are often carried out during the later stages of the cancer's development, leading to low patient survival rates and poor quality of life. The ENDOTHERANOSTICS PI Group's work could launch a new era for endoluminal intervention, with applications beyond medicine.

“I am thrilled to receive this prestigious ERC Synergy Grant and to collaborate with such outstanding researchers. Our project has the potential to transform the screening and treatment of colorectal cancer, improving patient outcomes and quality of life," said Professor Althoefer.

"I am grateful for the support of the ERC and look forward to working with my colleagues on this groundbreaking research."

The ERC President, Professor Maria Leptin, said: “Congratulations to all the winners! The selected projects are shining examples of audacious scientific thinking, and I eagerly await the outcomes of these collaborative endeavours. Together, they are well-equipped to tackle the substantial scientific questions that our world is yearning to find answers to."

The ENDOTHERANOSTICS project is one of only 34 projects selected for funding out of 395 proposals in the 2023 ERC Synergy call. This is the first ERC Synergy Grant awarded at Queen Mary University of London.

The ENDOTHERANOSTICS PI Group includes Professor Althoefer of the School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary, with Professors Alberto Arezzo (University of Turin), Bruno Siciliano (University of Naples Federico II) and Sebastien Ourselin (King’s College London).

Research Centres: