Welsh Engineering and Life Sciences link may speed cancer diagnosis
A link-up between a North Wales engineering company and Swansea University could lead to swifter diagnosis of diseases such as breast cancer.
The collaboration, between Porvair Filtration Group in Wrexham and the Centre for Nanohealth (CNH) at Swansea University, comes under the umbrella of XGEN, the Assembly-backed consortium of advanced manufacturing companies.
The Wrexham plant turns out thousands of inert porous polyethylene discs, which are used as specialised components in analytical equipment, essentially to trap powders as solutions flow through them.
Porvair believes the discs could have significant applications in the pharmaceutical industry – but lacks the expertise to carry out the necessary biochemical research. This is now being conducted by CNH, which is working on ways of speeding up the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as breast cancer in non-hospital environments like the home, community clinics and local GP surgeries.
Dr David Cowieson, Porvair’s Product Development Manager, said: “We are trying to identify how our plastic material can be used in diagnostics and drug development. Test devices based on it have been easy to control, with clear results, and therefore the material lends itself to the sort of research being conducted in Swansea. They have the necessary biological and health-care knowledge and have access to human and animal cell cultures.
“This is a very worthwhile collaboration between engineering and the life sciences, involving organisations in both north and south Wales. These are still early days, but all the signs are very good.”
CNH is a partner in the Welsh Assembly’s XGEN initiative, which brings together advanced manufacturing companies in Wales to develop next-generation products. Its Director, Dr Steve Conlan, said: “We are very keen to work with industry to get health care products to the market.
“In Porvair’s case, we are taking them into a new area of life sciences. They have developed a way of adding a biological function to their product, which has a future in diagnostics and in a relatively new area of research called epigenomics, the study of gene structures globally, which requires high throughput technologies. If this development works it will have a huge range of applications.”
Lesley Griffiths, Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, said this collaborative project clearly illustrated the importance of building upon the expertise that exists within Welsh universities and businesses.
“Businesses in Wales are operating in an increasingly competitive global market and this form of collaboration and partnership is vital for future success as technologies become more complex and specialised and the pace of innovation increases.
“For economic renewal, we need to encourage businesses to invest in R&D and harness the commercial opportunities of innovation and research, which, in this particular case, also has the potential to bring about significant health benefits.”
Health and biosciences have been highlighted by the Welsh Assembly Government as a key sector for economic growth.