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30th June 2014, 5:00pm
Trio of researchers join Royal Society's national science exhibition
Treating Cancer proton therapy exhibit Three pioneering research projects involving scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, will feature in a major public exhibition by The Royal Society.

The Royal Society's prestigious Summer Science Exhibition, which runs from 1st July to 6th July 2014, is the organisation's premier public engagement event of the year, showcasing cutting-edge science and technology research in accessible and exciting ways.

A trio of academics from the University of Lincoln will be part of this year's event, revealing their ground-breaking work into cancer treatment, insect sensory biology and training of working dogs.

Professor Nigel Allinson, MBE, from the University of Lincoln, will be showcasing the PRaVDA consortium's revolutionary work into cancer treatment, revealing for the first time the new technology (patents pending) they are developing which will improve the range of treatment options available.

The World Health Organisation estimates there are 14 million new cancer cases each year. In the developed world, it is the second biggest killer responsible for about one in four of all deaths.

Half of all cancer patients will receive radiotherapy as part of their curative treatment. All high-energy radiation damages a cell's DNA. Nearly all current radiotherapy use external beams of x-rays. Protons, positively charged particles, offer a new form of radiotherapy.

PRaVDA (Proton Radiotherapy Verification and Dosimetry Applications) is a unique instrument that will let clinicians see in 3D how the protons interact with a tumour the Holy Grail of Radiotherapy.

Proton therapy has the ability to deliver high doses of radiation directly to a tumour site with very little radiation being absorbed into healthy tissue.

This precision means that treatment is less likely to damage healthy tissue, vital in the treatment of tumours close to critical organs such as the brain or spinal cord. It is also particularly useful in treating cancer in children as there is less dose to healthy tissue which reduces the risk of second cancers arising later in life.

Professor Allinson said: "Bringing together clinicians, physicists, engineers and computer scientists we are developing, with support from a 1.6 million award from The Wellcome Trust, one of the most complex cameras ever envisaged to see in detail, in 3D, how protons deposit their energy in a tumour while the patient is receiving treatment.

"We use the detectors from the heart of the Large Hadron Collider, which provided the evidence for the Higgs Boson, to track the paths of individual protons. We also use the CMOS technology from smartphone cameras to accurately determine the energy lost by the protons in our body, though there is enough silicon in our instrument to make over 22,000 iPhone cameras.

"The exhibit will show how seemingly very different scientific disciplines and the strengths of commercial silicon integrated technology can come together to provide the missing element for the full future exploitation of proton therapy for the better treatment of cancer."

The work of the PRaVDA consortium has the potential to make this revolutionary form of treatment a viable option for thousands more cancer sufferers. Radiotherapy would be shorter and more effective and there would be opportunities to combat some common cancers which have resisted conventional treatment.

Dr Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, and Professor Daniel Robert from the University of Bristol will be revealing their research into the complex hearing mechanisms of insects.

Together with colleagues from Bristol, Dr Montealegre-Z discovered a previously unidentified hearing organ in the South American bushcrickets' ear. This breakthrough could pave the way for technological advancements in bio-inspired acoustic sensors research, including microphones and cochlear implants.

Their exhibition will allow visitors to experience how a Jurassic-era 150 million years ago - cricket used to sing and a hands-on demonstration will also enable people to hear what a cricket actually hears.

Dr Montealegre-Z said: "This exhibit will allow us to immerse visitors in the world of insect hearing, giving them the opportunity to find out how hearing works at the micro-scale, what exactly it is that insects hear, and how this helps them to find their prey, avoid predators and attract mates."

Professor Daniel Mills and Helen Zulch, from the School of Life Sciences, and Dr Emile van der Zee from the School of Psychology, are partners in a project with The Open University. Their exhibit focusses on dog-friendly interactive technology used to support or enhance the performance of working dogs which help humans.

Increasingly dogs are humans' trusted working partners in a wide range of important jobs, such as assisting disabled people, playing crucial roles in military operations, detecting and managing life-threatening medical conditions, or rescuing stranded and injured people.

The Open University Animal-Computer Interaction Lab is currently focussed on designing interactive technologies from a canine perspective. The exhibit will showcase prototypes of technologies such as an electronic light-switch designed for assistance dogs; an interface allowing cancer detection dogs to express levels of confidence when assessing biological samples; and an alarm system allowing medical alert dogs to summon help for their assisted humans. Dogs from research partners Dogs for the Disabled and Medical Detection Dogs will also demonstrate the technologies.

Professor Mills said: "This exhibit is a great example of truly interdisciplinary science that has a real impact on society. Dogs were the first species to be domesticated and their partnership with humans is unique. Our work shows how we can use modern technology to help maximise the potential of the partnership and the value that dogs can bring to society."

Royal Society SummerScience Exhibition website

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