Bionanotechnology-enabled monitoring of disease progression during cancer treatment


Academics at the University of Edinburgh are joining forces with research scientists from pharmaceutical company Celgene to develop a new technology that could help to improve cancer treatment.

Their proposed system has the potential to enhance monitoring of disease progression during therapy, enabling clinicians and patients to make more informed decisions about drug regimes.



The project brings together engineering and life sciences to design, build and test a new device that could detect and measure an important cancer biomarker in clinical samples such as blood. The project is co-funded by industrial partner Celgene and the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering.

The project team comprises School of Engineering Lecturer Dr Katherine Dunn, School of Clinical Sciences Reader Dr Bin-Zhi Qian and Celgene’s research scientists Dr Cristina Costa Santini and Dr Ines Gonzalez Garcia. Dr Santini and Dr Garcia are based at the Celgene Institute for Translational Research Europe (CITRE) in Seville, Spain. The project entails a fully-funded PhD position, which will provide an eligible student with an outstanding opportunity to conduct world-leading research in a supportive environment, with a personalized training and development programme (



Numerous studies have demonstrated that the effectiveness of cancer treatment varies from patient to patient, and also depends on type of cancer and drug. When patients undergo chemotherapy, sometimes their tumours do not respond, and the treatment strategy must be changed. Data about disease progression during treatment is therefore critical to inform decisions about drug regimes. Information can be obtained using tumour biopsies, which involve removing and examining tissue, but these are very invasive and disruptive to the patient.



Taking blood samples (‘liquid biopsies’) is less invasive than taking tumour tissue samples, enabling more frequent monitoring of treatment response and improving patient experience. One cancer marker in liquid biopsies is DNA that has been ejected from the tumour into the bloodstream. However, at present there is no approved device for monitoring such circulating tumour (ct) DNA in liquid biopsies. This project will aim to fill that gap, using biomolecular engineering and nanotechnology to develop a new approach to ctDNA detection and monitoring.


Dr Katherine Dunn said, ‘This is a very exciting project. I am very much looking forward to working with our partners to develop a new technology that has the potential to provide cancer patients and their doctors with better information about how their tumours are responding to prescribed therapies.’