Early Detection Innovation Sandpit and Award

About this scheme

Key information

Career level
Early career researcher
Mid-career researcher
Established independent researcher
Non-clinical researcher
Health professional
Industry researcher
Scientific theme
Early detection of pancreatic cancer
Application deadline

30 September 2020
Workshop dates

29 November – 2 December 2020, Virtual*
Funding period
1 year
Funding amount

*Due to the current public health emergency, this workshop will now be held as a virtual event.

The Early Detection Innovation Sandpit and Award will catalyse new multidisciplinary collaborations to drive forward earlier detection of pancreatic cancer. This sandpit is in partnership with Pancreatic Cancer UK and The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. 

To apply for this funding you must attend a sandpit workshop — an intensive and interactive 3-day virtual event where you will have the opportunity to:

  • Network and form new collaborations spanning diverse research areas and organisations
  • Work in broad, multidisciplinary teams to generate new and innovative research ideas
  • Pitch projects for seed funding to test the feasibility of your ideas

Scientific theme

The theme for the September 2020 workshop is applying novel technological approaches for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Western countries and is projected to rise to the second cause within a decade. Over the last 10 years, diagnosis and detection of this disease at earlier stages has had limited improvement; therefore, there is an urgent unmet clinical need that calls for action. 

The late detection of pancreatic cancer is, among others, attributed to late symptom presentation, complex pancreatic cancer biology, the lack of established and validated biomarkers and the absence of imaging techniques that can accurately detect small pre-cancer lesions. In addition, the low incidence of pancreatic cancer and the absence of cheap and effective tests reduces the possibility to implement general population screening. 

Development of novel technologies, diagnostic techniques and new analytics/algorithms to assess risk for developing pancreatic cancer are paramount to improve patients’ outcomes. The aim of this workshop is to stimulate ideas for novel and innovative approaches to detecting pancreatic cancer early. This workshop will bring together the pancreatic cancer research community with networks from outside biomedicine such as computational scientists, engineers, chemists and physicists.  

The research ideas you develop at the workshop could investigate some or a combination of the following challenges:

  • Development of new sensor devices:

    • Innovation in sensor technology to detect pancreatic cancer markers. For instance, sensor technology to detect biomarkers in blood, breath, urine, faeces, pancreatic cyst fluid, etc.  

    • Development of systems and/or technologies for high-risk patients to monitor biomarker levels over time. For example, patients with new-onset diabetes mellitus or familial pancreatitis

  • Development of new computational approaches – new analytics and algorithms to: 

    • Identify high-risk groups through e.g. population and germline genomic data 

    • Distinguish subtypes of pancreatic cancer across patients and examine tumour heterogeneity, including identification of specific signatures, in order to prognose accurately from early detection 

    • Validate and translate previously identified biomarkers through mathematical models and large datasets 

    • Identify sensitive and specific biomarkers/other signatures through large datasets (omics, imaging, etc.) as well as develop tools for biomarker prioritisation 

  • Development of new integrative modalities of cancer diagnostic tools and/or decision-making tools leveraging from electronic health records and other health care data e.g. diagnostic imaging datasets, multi-omics datasets, etc.   

We welcome applications from a wide range of disciplines, including from those working in the fields of cancer biology, healthcare professionals, computer scientists, mathematicians and statisticians, engineers, physical scientists, and those working in the digital and technology space.

You must be:

  • Creative, open-minded, and able to work effectively as part of a team
  • Willing to engage with those working in other disciplines from a variety of backgrounds, and other key stakeholders
  • Able to attend all days of the virtual workshop from 29 November – 2 December 2020*
  • Based in the UK

We particularly welcome applications from those working in clinical technologies, novel sensor devices, computing approaches and cancer diagnostic tools that have not previously been explored in the detection of pancreatic cancer and from people representing organisations (large or small) that will contribute new expertise and new thinking in early detection research.

We regret that PhD students and junior postdocs are not eligible to attend the workshop.

Teams who successfully pitch proposals at the workshop will receive seed-funding for one year to cover the costs of pilot/feasibility studies.

How to apply to this scheme

Application process

The application process has 4 stages:

  1. Submit a completed application form and up-to-date CV by noon 30 September 2020 to earlydetection@cancer.org.uk.

  2. We will review your application and successful candidates will be notified in October with an invition to attend the workshop.

  3. Over the course of the workshop, teams will develop pilot/feasibility study proposals, which they will be able to pitch for funding on the final day of the workshop. Up to 5 teams will be funded, and decisions will be presented at the end of the event.

  4. The principal investigator for each successful study team will have until 8 January to submit a written version of their feasibility study proposal through eGMS that outlines their group’s intended activities as presented at the workshop, with costings.

Further guidance on the post-award processes will be made available to successful applicants at the workshop.

Before you begin your application

You must:

  1. Read the workshop specification (PDF) 

  2. Obtain the approval of your host organisation/employer/board/shareholder(s) (as appropriate), to ensure that your organisation is willing and able to engage in a collaborative project.

Selection criteria will include:

  • The potential to work in trans-disciplinary environments
  • The potential to develop innovative and adventurous approaches to research
  • The ability to work collaboratively with others
  • The ability to communicate and engage with diverse non-academic stakeholders throughout the research process
  • Relevant research expertise and experience

Funding decisions will be made on the final day of the workshop by the workshop director and scientific mentors. The Directors of the Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer Sandpit will be Professor Eithne Costello, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Liverpool, and Professor Stephen Pereira, Professor of Hepatology and Gastroenterology at University College London.

Decisions are ratified by our Early Detection Research Committee.

Cancer Research UK contact details

Dr Ana Lopez

Research Funding Manager


0203 469 5691




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