Early detection of cancer, notably primary tumours at a pre-invasive stage, could arguably have a bigger impact on managing this devastating disease than any amount of innovative treatments or novel interventions. It is this premise which is driving the development of a multimillion pound Early Detection Programme (EDP) at the Cambridge Cancer Centre. This new initiative was launched at a fascinating and well-attended meeting organized by the Early Detection Programme in Cambridge on Jan 18.
Among the great and the good present for this important launch meeting was Sir Harpal Kumar. The recently knighted CEO of CRUK gave an excellent introduction, which did not pull its punches in terms of highlighting how the UK lags behind most other high income countries in terms of diagnosis and outcomes for just about all tumour types. It is hoped that some of the exciting and highly promising initiatives being showcased at the EDP launch (and noted below) will begin to change this picture.
One thing which all of the chairs and keynote speakers commented on from the projects presented was the collaborative and multi-disciplinary nature of the research. Many of the presentations were ‘double acts’ with a biomedical researcher or clinician sharing the podium with an engineer or chemist, from across Cambridge University. These collaborations are catalyzing some new approaches and neat solutions to issues as diverse as POC testing for prostate cancer and identifying new blood-borne biomarkers. A total of seven EDP projects, all of which have been awarded funding support, were outlined at the launch meeting. Some of these are noted in the table below, which highlights inter-disciplinary collaborations in particular.
|New Research Projects||Collaborating Departments|
|Amyloid – a new liquid biopsy and imaging biomarker for cancer?||CRUK, Brindle Group and Dept of Chemistry|
|A microfluidic platform for mapping spatio-temporal cell-cell communication in early neoplastic cell models||CRUK and Dept of Chemistry|
|Point-of-care, real-time measurement of PSA sub-types using acoustic sensors for early detection of prostate cancer||Urology and Electronic Engineering|
|Low cost wide field holographic capsule endoscopy for early detection of oesophageal cancer||Gastroenterology and Photonic Engineering|
So one of the recurring themes of this meeting was that there are considerable benefits from cross-departmental collaboration and partnering – something which could bear fruit in wider areas of cancer research than just early detection. Keynote speakers acknowledged that enabling such inter-disciplinary cooperation should be encouraged and the EDP is leading the way with, for example, the Clinical/STEM networking and information exchange. It is hoped that more and more promising research avenues and practical projects will emerge from this cooperation, and not just in Cambridge. In London The Crick Institute is one such centre aiming to embrace similar principles and encouraging ‘de-siloed’ thinking and novel partnerships. Similar initiatives are taking place in the US – e.g. Orien.
I am sure that this new atmosphere of active collaboration will lead to many breakthroughs in EDP and other aspects of cancer care. There is however one other area which needs a multi-disciplinary approach and collaborative thinking if these breakthroughs are ever going to impact patient care. That area is translational medicine and patient access. It is the case that new developments, no matter how promising or well-researched, take a long time to reach clinical practice at the coalface of the NHS. Witness the contrasting (no pun intended!) penetration of blue light cystoscopy and photodynamic diagnosis of bladder cancer in the UK compared with the rest of Europe. Or the patchy (and sometimes controversial) uptake of new anti-cancer agents across the UK.
Perhaps a parallel series of initiatives aimed at bringing together evidence-based medicine specialists, health economists, psychologists and patient communications experts would be equally valuable? Parallel processing of cost-effectiveness arguments, building a compelling evidence-base, anticipating access hurdles and gaining patient insights to these new approaches and investigations could prove to be the key to future success and speed of uptake. Maintaining and encouraging the cross-discipline, collaborative ethic displayed in the EDP initiative could bear fruit in other areas and is something we are trying to facilitate and actively encourage at Astrocyte.
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