Cambridge-based firm receives US 240k funding for coeliac research
Cambridge-based firm receives US 240k funding for coeliac research

Despite COVID-19, which has meant many research projects being put on hold, this joint funding from 2019 enabled the research grant winners to commence the project earlier this year. The funding will assist Cambridge-based Lyzeum, who is working with a multi-disciplinary team of mathematicians and pathologists from both the University of Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh to develop an AI solution to help and speed up the diagnosis of coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition.

Currently in the majority of cases, in order to diagnose coeliac disease, biopsies are inspected by a trained pathologist to identify the damage to intestinal cells which is characteristic of coeliac disease. A process which is time consuming and subjective, with different opinions in up to 25% of cases.

With access to a large database of scanned, high resolution, microscopic images of small intestinal biopsies, this funding will allow the researchers to develop a cloud based, digital pathology tool to help with the diagnosis of coeliac disease using an algorithm that can diagnose biopsies as diseased or normal.

The aim is to substantially improve the speed and accuracy of biopsy based coeliac disease diagnosis and potentially automate part of the process. The research may also provide insights into the microscopic appearances of coeliac disease and potentially identify different subtypes of coeliac disease.

Hilary Croft, CEO of Coeliac UK said: “This new research is a tremendous step forward to potentially help speed up one element of the diagnosis journey, reduce subjectivity and improve accuracy. Pioneering research is essential to aid in developing new testing methods and we are thrilled to have combined forces with Innovate UK once again to advance our knowledge and support innovation that can improve the lives of people with coeliac disease.”

Richard Hebdon, head of health and medicine at Innovate UK, added: “Innovate UK has long supported businesses innovating in the areas of healthcare diagnostics and nutrition, helping to translate the UK’s world class research into commercially available solutions. This new research will not only help improve, but also speed up diagnoses of one of the most undiagnosed chronic conditions in the UK.”

In early 2019, three projects based in Birmingham, Newcastle and Edinburgh, were awarded Coeliac UK / Innovate UK grants from the first joint research call held in 2018. Including the contribution from industry, a total £750,000 was committed to research:

  • A new test to provide a less invasive way of diagnosing coeliac disease that may not rely on someone having to eat ongoing amounts of gluten if they have already adopted a gluten free diet.
  • Development of three new plant proteins derived from crops, which are underused in the UK: rapeseed cake, faba beans and naked oats, to help improve the ingredients used in gluten free bread. At the beginning of the year, Nandi Proteins Ltd and the team welcomed Finsbury Food Group – Ultrapharm to the project, as one of the industrial end users.
  • Software innovation to help in the ongoing management of coeliac disease, so that those who need additional care receive access to crucial support when they need it and those living well can receive the assurance of being clinically followed up without the inconvenience, time and cost of hospital appointments.

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