Successful first international summer school: "Discovery and Development of Diagnostics for Early Detection of Cancer"

The first summer school organised by the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme took place from 15-18 July 2019 in Robinson College, Cambridge. First proposed in 2017, the Discovery and Development of Diagnostics for Early Detection of Cancer Summer School was organised to be the first of its kind to bring together delegates from academic, corporate, clinical and public sector backgrounds interested in exploring the rapidly expanding and exciting field of early cancer detection.

Thanks to our recent recognition as a CRUK International Cancer Early Detection Alliance (ICED) Member Centre, we were able to fund the first school this year. Illustrating the global demand for such training, the 60 places available on the summer school were oversubscribed, with a waiting list. The international spread of the delegates was impressive, including 32 different institutions in seven different countries. Colleagues from the other UK ICED Alliance centres, Manchester and UCL, also attended the course. In total, the attendees included 32 PhD students, with the remaining number composed of research associates, clinical trial managers, clinical consultants, research nurses and programme managers. Approximately half of the attendees were biomedical scientists and a quarter were STEM scientists.

Excellent range of talks, great presenters across the board.

Summer School delegate feedback

The summer school was organised into six different sessions across the three and a half days: Introduction to Early Detection of Cancer; Science and Technology of Diagnostics; Case Studies for Science/Technology of Diagnostics; Regulation and Evidence Review; Clinical Trials and Implementation; and Societal Impacts of Early Detection of Cancer. Within each session, 3 – 4 speakers presented on topics relevant to the subject. Talks ranged from a fascinating case study description of the pathway to adoption of the Qiagen Digene HPV test from Professor Attila Lorincz of QMUL, through the regulation of early detection diagnostics from Dr Alberto Gutierrez, Former Director of the FDA, to an animated panel discussion on societal impacts of early detection of cancer led by experts in the field of Social Anthropology (Dr Maryon McDonald), History and Philosophy of Science (Dr Stephen John) and Public Health Ethics (Prof Lynette Reid).

Really appreciated the sessions giving a lifelong learning journey, as well as those presenting a methodological approach.

Summer School delegate feedback

The summer school expert speakers represented 16 different organisations from Canada, Netherlands, Sweden, the USA and the UK. Eight of the speakers acted as Senior Faculty members, staying for the duration of the school to be available to share their expertise with delegates throughout the course. The remaining speakers, representing industry and academia, were on hand to speak with the delegates on the day that they gave their talk and often shared lively discussions at breaks and mealtimes.

A unique aspect of the course was the participation by all delegates, throughout the duration of the school, in a group activity entitled Envisioning New Diagnostics. Delegates were divided into five groups of twelve, each led by a Scrum Master. The objective of the exercise was for each team to develop and present a product definition for a cancer diagnostic device. The activity was devised by Dr Carl Yamashiro and Mara Aspinall of Arizona State University College of Health Solutions (ASU), in conjunction with Early Detection Programme Manager Dr Wendy Alderton. ASU offers a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Diagnostics, stimulating the initial idea for the group activity, which was then tailored to run over the course of less than a week.

Using the agile development method, common in software design and ideal for complex projects, each team worked hard to develop their product plan. They addressed factors such as market need, intellectual property, regulatory requirements, the competitive environment and marketing of the product. On the final afternoon, each team gave a 7-minute presentation of their device and marketing plan, followed by questions from the audience including the expert speakers. The Senior Faculty judged that all teams showed an impressive understanding of the issues and presented innovative ideas, but in the event Team Darwin, with Scrum Master Dr Valerie Sills, were judged to have presented the most compelling case for their diagnostic BrainBox Diagnostix for early detection of glioblastoma.
Winning team Darwin

Group Activity winning team Darwin

Overall, the feedback gathered from the delegates was extremely positive, both on the quality of teaching and on the interaction opportunities it provided. 100% of delegates said that they would recommend the school to a friend or colleague. Delegates also gave a number of suggestions for topics that they would like to see covered or expanded upon in the future, giving plenty of scope for a repeat Early Detection Summer School in 2021, which we hope will rotate around the other ICED Alliance centres – watch this space!

A Summer School the organisers can be very proud of – comprehensive learning, collaborative, innovative and highest quality.

Summer School delegate feedback


We would like to thank all the speakers who contributed to the teaching of the summer school (in alphabetical order): Barry Berger, Billy Boyle, Chris Contag, Rebecca Fitzgerald, Alberto Gutierrez, Stuart Hogarth, Stephen John, Attila T. Lorincz, Anne Mackie, Maryon McDonald, Robyn Meurant, Nickolas Papadopoulos, Stephen Quake, Lynette Reid, Maroeska Rovers, Peter Sasieni, Sian Taylor-Phillips, Fiona Walter, Henrik Winther, Carl Yamashiro. Particular thanks go to Stuart Hogarth for his invaluable assistance and to Wendy Alderton, Mara Aspinall and Carl Yamashiro for devising the group exercise. For their excellent organisation, session chairing and scrum mastering Wendy Alderton, Mara Aspinall, Catherine Atkins, Cindy Azevedo, Jamie Blundell, Sarah Bohndiek, Lieneke Makaske, Charlie Massie, Daniel Muñoz Espín, Valerie Sills.

For financial support, we would like to thank the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and the International Cancer Early Detection Alliance.

Formal dinner
Summer school session