Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers awardee

University of Manchester

Can oxygen-enhanced MRI produce biomarkers of tissue hypoxia and prognosis in clear cell renal cancer?

To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Starter Grants for Clinical Lecturers scheme we are pleased to feature case studies of past and present Starter Grant awardees. Professor James O’Connor was awarded a Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers in 2010. Here he explains how his award helped him to obtain significant further funding and highlights the main achievements of his research career so far.


Can you give us an overview of your research interests?

I am a group leader, CRUK clinician scientist and clinical radiologist. My group develops and translates novel imaging methods to evaluate cancer biology and monitor patients with cancer. Particular focus is on MRI methods that measure hypoxia, angiogenesis, cell death or tumour immunology.

In all of these areas, the spatial arrangement of these pathophysiological signals (termed heterogeneity) is believed to be important for determining response to therapy, relapse and subsequent progression. My work also focuses on methods of mapping and quantifying changes in this heterogeneity.

Many imaging methods struggle to be implemented into clinical decision making, so I have pioneered the process by which cancer imaging tests should be validated to become useful tools (O’Connor JPB et al., 2017 Nat Rev Clin Oncol 14: 169-186).


What was the impact of your Starter Grant?

With my Starter Grant, I performed a first in human biological validation study of a novel hypoxia MRI method in patients with renal cancer. This study was completed in 2016 and was published in the leading imaging journal ‘Radiology’ earlier this year, providing me with a senior author paper (Little RA et al., 2018 Radiology 288: 739-747). It was also presented orally at two international conferences.

My Starter Grant helped me to obtain a CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellowship in 2013 (£660,000) and a CRUK Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship in 2017 (£1.45m)


What’s next for you and your research?

I now have a research group of 10 people and am expanding that group into new research areas including artificial intelligence and big data.


Research highlights

  • Professor of Radiology, University of Manchester (2018) and co-lead of the newly funded CRUK National Cancer Imaging Network
  • Securing £3.6m directly allocated funding to date (CRUK, MRC, EPSRC, other), including getting 2 CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellowships
  • A total of 74 publications including to leading cancer journals such as Lancet Oncology, Nature Communications and Cancer Research

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