Advanced Technologies for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment


This project has been initiated by Prof. Radu Ionescu, RYA member pertaining to the Technological Development and Health/ Quality of Life research theme. 

Prof. Ionescu organised a conference on this topic in September 2020 and applied for UEFISCDI funding together with his collaborators at the Coltea Hospital in Bucharest. The team pointed out that cancer is one of the leading death causes around the globe and the survival of patients relies mainly on its fast diagnosis and effective treatment. Nowadays, the most common forms of cancer treatment include radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. While the majority of patients receive a combination of all these treatments, there are still aggressive forms of cancer that are not curable at the moment. One of the most controversial cancer treatments is targeted cancer therapy. Targeted therapies often imply the use of cytostatics, which prevent the progress of the tumor cells. However, cytostatics trigger extensive side effects and could induce irreversible damage to the patients. Therefore, researchers are constantly searching for new therapies to treat and cure cancer.

Nanotechnology may offer a great advantage in cancer therapy by advanced targeting and controlled release of the anticancer drug. Even though nanostructures may offer a great advantage in cancer therapy, numerous toxicity-related aspects should be still considered in order to implement the use of anticancer nanosystems in current cancer treatment. This represents one of the goals of the current project.

Another relatively new form of treatment that has demonstrated remarkable promise in recent years is immunotherapy. However, while T-cells are often successful at eliminating illness, they are usually ineffective at recognizing cancer cells. This is because cancer cells are able to use an array of strategies to ensure that they go unnoticed by T-cell receptors. Consequently, T-cells often pass by cancer cells without noticing them, allowing cancer to develop and spread rather unchallenged. The goal of immunotherapy is thus to bioengineer ways to enable T-cells recognize cancer cells and then successfully destroy them.

For developing new forms or improving current forms of cancer treatment, Prof., Ionescu and his team will rely on the expertise of our researchers in the fields of nanotechnology and bioengineering. For cancer diagnosis, they will develop novel systems based on state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms, capable of reaching expert-level performance. In this regard, our main goal is to link CT/MRI scans with genetic mutations, potentially saving delays of weeks or months of receiving the proper treatment for the discovered mutations. They therefore aim to address both the diagnosis and the treatment of cancer.

Additionally, they will look into the ethical implications of using new technologies for cancer treatment and diagnosis, with a special focus on the use of AI. In particular, they will use the framework of virtue ethics to discuss the impact of these technologies for the quality of life of patients suffering from cancer, depending on the stage of their disease when diagnosed / treated. Furthermore, they will discuss issues of individual and collective moral responsibility associated with the use of new technologies, including (but not limited to) technology designers, healthcare practitioners, patients themselves, as well as family members or legal supporters (for children or mentally ill patinets). Finally, their contribution will be reflected in the design of the informed consent / permission associated with the use of specific new technologies for cancer treatment and diagnosis.  

They will also focus on issues of justice, particularity on the interplay between access to such forms of therapy and the way in which biomedical research currently takes place, i.e. within a globalized legal framework in which Intellectual Property laws offer a robust protection. While labour-based moral justifications for patents are making a comeback in the academic debate, it is still the utilitarian argument, with its emphasis on granting a property right in an idea/formula as an incentive mechanism for researchers and medical companies to be creative and to invest in R&D that mainly makes the headlines. The work of the team will revolve around whether the paradigmatic utilitarian case should still apply for such cutting-edge treatments and methods of diagnosing cancer, especially if one of the most common consequences of the existence of patents is higher prices as a result of artificial scarcity. In particular, we will explore how our current IP system and patent laws should be reformed in order to increase the access of the most disadvantaged individuals to the results of essential biomedical research and whether publicly financed research with the aim of providing a cure for cancer should be patented.