Cambridge and Stanford collaborate to fund innovative research to help diagnose cancer sooner

Developing new approaches to finding and stopping cancer earlier is the goal of the Early Detection Programme at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre.

At the Programme’s 3rd annual symposium yesterday four exciting new research projects were announced, reinforcing Cambridge as one of the world’s leading Centres for research into the early detection of cancer.

Cambridge has recently joined forces with another world-leader in early cancer detection – the Canary Center at Stanford, California. This an ideal opportunity to combine outstanding academic and clinical researchers from the UK and US to tackle some of the most challenging questions in detecting cancer sooner: how to identify those at the highest risk of cancer, finding new ways to spot and cure the very first signs of cancer, and how to develop cost-effective, non-invasive and reliable methods for early cancer detection 

To establish the transatlantic collaboration, the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and Canary Centre at Stanford are jointly funding four research projects exploring innovative ways to detect prostate, lung, oesophageal and renal cancers at an early stage.

Vincent Gnanapragasam, a consultant urologist at Cambridge University Hospitals, is leading an initiative to stratify men diagnosed with prostate cancer according to how aggressive their tumour is. Working with Tanya Stoyanova, a radiology professor at the Canary Center, the project will use data from a number of sources – including tumour DNA found circulating in the blood, protein molecules found in cancer cells and MRI imaging of the tumour – to identify patients with the most aggressive tumours so that they can be treated immediately. Men with slow-growing tumours will also be identified and these patients may not need treatment immediately, but could be monitored closely so that any changes in their tumour can be picked up and acted upon.

Robert Rintoul, a thoracic consultant based at the Royal Papworth Hospital, is exploring new ways to detect lung cancer at an early stage by studying the immune cells in blood samples to see if there are particular signals that could be used to identify lung cancer early. He is collaborating with H. Tom Soh a professor of radiology at the Canary Center.

Rebecca Fitzgerald, who co-leads the Early Detection Programme, is collaborating with Utkan Demirci at the Canary Center who has developed a new nano-technology using a magnetic field to separate different cell types. They will investigate whether the technology can be used to separate the mixture of cell types collected from the gullet when patients are given the Cytosponge test that Professor Fitzgerald has developed. The Cytosponge TFF3 is a cost effective, minimally invasive method for diagnosing Barrett’s Oesophagus – a common condition that can, in some cases, develop into cancer of the oesophagus.

Charlie Massie, who is a group leader in the Early Detection Programme, is going to be researching whether it is possible to detect the early stages of a type of kidney cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma) using biomarkers found in urine. He is working in collaboration with Oliver Gevaert at the Canary Center to look at specific signals in the DNA cells called methylation.

The researchers explain their projects in more detail in the video below:

As well as announcing new research, the audience of nearly 200 cancer scientists and patients gathered yesterday at the CRUK Cambridge Institute heard about ground-breaking research already taking place in the Early Detection Programme.

Projects showcased at the meeting included: identifying women at highest risk of developing breast cancer; assessing whether menstrual fluid could be used to spot early signs of ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers; and pinpointing which lung cancer patients are most at risk of developing another primary cancer after initial treatment.