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Early Cancer Institute

We are pioneering a new paradigm in cancer detection and intervention.

CCRH - Jamie Blundell writing on whiteboard
Researcher writing on whiteboard

A collaborative ecosystem of experts, rooted in a world-leading biomedical hub, we carry out transformative research to detect cancer early enough to cure it. Our vision is to chart the path towards a world where people no longer fear cancer.

Embedded within the Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital, the Early Cancer Institute will lead collaborations to:

  • understand the very earliest stages of cancer development
  • pioneer, develop and test minimally invasive new technologies to prevent and intercept cancer development
  • innovate and improve population algorithms to provide cancer-risk estimates to patients and healthcare professionals
  • enable first-in-human clinical trials for early cancer detection to establish feasibility, acceptability and cost effectiveness of new diagnostics and early interventions
  • accelerate validation, commercialisation and implementation of novel devices for early detection of cancer.

The Early Cancer Institute will include an innovation hub – a world-leading facility designed to transcend traditional boundaries of biomedicine, physics and engineering for the incubation of new ideas from multi-disciplinary project teams.

We are also recruiting a group of healthy volunteers willing to consider participating in early cancer detection clinical studies.

Watch two patients explain why they joined the Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) Cohort.

Watch two patients explain why they joined the Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) Cohort.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP_lASqDaNk

Early detection in action

The Cytosponge begins as a pill on a string. It is swallowed by a patient and when it reaches the stomach the coating dissolves. The nurse then pulls the sponge back out of the stomach using the attached string. As the sponge comes up it collects cells from the oesophagus for lab analysis. The cells are tested for signs of a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which can sometimes develop into oesophageal cancer.

Previously Barrett’s was diagnosed by patients having a biopsy during an endoscopy – which is an uncomfortable hospital procedure. But the Cytosponge and molecular test, which was invented by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and her team at the University of Cambridge with funding from the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, is much less intrusive, less expensive and can be administered at GP surgeries.

Rebecca Fitzgerald with cytosponge
Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald with Cytosponge.

Trials have shown that the Cytosponge can identify ten times more people with Barrett’s oesophagus than the usual GP route, and the test is also better at picking up abnormal cells and potentially early stage cancer. Diagnosing patients with Barrett’s means they can be monitored regularly and treated for any changes in their condition.

Professor Fitzgerald said: “The sponge could be a game-changer in how we diagnose and ensure more people survive oesophageal cancer. Compared with endoscopies performed in hospital, the Cytosponge causes minimal discomfort and is a quick, simple test that can be done by a GP. Our test is already being piloted around the country, so we hope more people across the UK could benefit from it.”

Read patient Liz Chipchase's story about her involvement in the Cytosponge trial.

Lead researcher/director: Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald

For more information please visit the Early Cancer Institute website.