NUI Galway Awarded €3 Million to Lead EU Project in Cancer Diagnosis

Monday, 7 February 2011

Stokes Professor of Glycosciences at the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science (NCBES), Professor Lokesh Joshi, has been awarded an EU-FP7 grant worth €3 million to lead a large collaborative research project known as GlycoHIT over three years. GlycoHIT (Glycomics by High throughput Integrated Technologies) is aimed at developing future technologies that will enable fast and accurate analysis of glycosylation in blood samples from cancer patients. All cells and most proteins in blood are glycosylated, that is they are coated with sugars, and these sugars are known to be altered in many diseases, including cancer. High throughput technologies to analyse these altered sugars, or glycobiomarkers, will allow scientists to diagnose different forms of cancer from a simple blood test without the need for biopsy. GlycoHIT will also further develop sugar testing technologies to allow this rapid form of diagnosis to be used in a clinical setting. As Professor Joshi explains, "The development of reliable and fast diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancer is central to the project and of great importance. Early initiation of treatment can result in increased survival rates and improved quality of life for the patient. This research is an important step toward making that happen." A number of specific sugar biomarkers associated with certain forms of cancer have already been identified, but more are needed to improve the accuracy with which they can be used for cancer diagnosis. GlycoHIT will also assist the identification of improved glycobiomarkers for cancer. By discovering new biomarkers, as well as modifying existing lab technologies to decrease the amount of time required for testing, GlycoHIT has the potential to deliver a diagnosis in minutes rather than days. GlycoHIT is being funded under the EU-FP7 SICA (Specific International Cooperation Action) programme, the goal of which is to encourage much closer research cooperation between EU Member States and non-EU countries, in this case China. GlycoHIT has 15 academic and industry partners from across Europe, the US, Japan and China. A Chinese 'sister' project for GlycoHIT funded by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) has also been identified by the European Commission. The two projects will hold a number of joint events during the project term to share expertise and knowledge. Vice President for Research at NUI Galway Terry Smith said "NUI Galway is delighted to be part of this investment by the EU for research to be led by Professor Lokesh Joshi. It is an affirmation of the quality of research conducted at NUI Galway and promises to further our commitment to enable the translation of research from bench to bedside." Welcoming this funding success, University President, Dr James Browne said: "This development highlights NUI Galway strong research reputation in key areas and our success in building collaborations with international partners. NUI Galway has to date, won over €25 million in competitive EU research funding under Framework Programme 7 (2007-13)." Professor Joshi is also Director of the NUI Galway-led Alimentary Glycoscience Research Cluster (AGRC), which is examining how glycosylation is involved in the biology of good and bad bacteria, commensals and pathogens, in the gut, with a view to the identification of new therapies for gut diseases.
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