Team at Cambridge MRC Cancer Cell Unit wins innovation prize

In collaboration with Adfero

A team at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge have won one of the Department of Health's first Innovation Challenge Prizes for their work on a new test for Barrett's oesophagus.

Barrett's oesophagus is a condition that sometimes acts as a precursor to oesophageal cancer.

The Cambridge team have developed a new pill on a fine cord which, once swallowed, dissolves into a sponge.

The sponge can then be drawn back up through the throat, collecting cells which can be tested for pre-cancerous changes.

Each test should cost just £25, compared with £400 for a traditional endoscopy, and the procedure is far less invasive.

In addition, by helping to detect cancerous cells at an early stage, the so-called 'Cytosponge' could save millions of pounds by preventing patients from needing chemotherapy.

The award was announced on June 3rd by health minister Lord Howe, who said he was "impressed" by the team's work.

He said: "The Cytosponge is a much simpler treatment for patients and the savings made by this innovation will benefit patients across the region.

"We need to support innovation in the NHS, not suffocate it. In every hospital, GP practice and clinic we need to ensure innovation can flourish by supporting clinicians to develop new ways of thinking and delivering care to benefit patients and the NHS."

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, who leads the MRC Cancer Cell Unit, explained that the test could be used in the same way as cervical or bowel cancer screening, to detect cancers at an early stage when endoscopy can be used rather than surgery.

She added: "The prize money will enable us to develop this test further to diagnose the other common type of oesophagus cancer and to collect further data to show how effective the Cytosponge is."

Dr Fiona Reddington, Cancer Research UK's head of population research funding, said: "We're delighted to see Dr Fitzgerald's work recognised in this way.

"Detecting cancer earlier has the potential to save thousands of lives a year, and we're proud to be supporting the future development of this test for oesophageal cancer, which is notoriously difficult to treat when diagnosed late."