Current research into oesophageal cancer
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Saving lives through our research
We’ve made oesophageal cancer one of our top priorities: it is one of four ‘hard to treat’ cancers highlighted in our 2014 strategy. This means we are increasing funding for research into oesophageal cancer, and looking for ways to boost the number of scientists working in the field. Below are some examples of what our researchers are doing to tackle oesophageal cancer right now.
Our current researchers
Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald in Cambridge has developed a test called ‘sponge-on-a-string’, or ‘Cytosponge’. When coupled with a simple laboratory test it can be used to diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that can develop into oesophageal cancer. Identifying people with this condition and monitoring them over time could help doctors diagnose oesophageal cancer earlier. Professor Fitzgerald is running a trial in GP surgeries around the UK to test the sponge-on-a-string. The aim is to determine whether it is cheaper and easier than current methods used to diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus.
Dr Phil Jones in Cambridge is studying how healthy oesophageal stem cells become mutated and develop into cancer. His work will shed light on the early stages of oesophageal cancer development. Armed with this new information, he hopes to test whether new and existing drugs can destroy these mutated stem cells, and prevent oesophageal cancer developing.
Understanding pre-cancerous changes
Barrett’s oesophagus is a condition that causes glands to form in the oesophagus due to extra acid and bile. Some of these glands can evolve into cancer, but at the moment we don’t know why. Dr Stuart McDonald in London is investigating how the glands change and whether we can predict which patients are likely to develop cancer. This work may help reduce the number of patients having endoscopies.
Finding new drug targets
Professor Tim Underwood in Southampton is studying how cancer cells ‘hijack’ neighbouring healthy cells to help them grow. In particular, he wants to understand how genetic changes in cancer cells help them do this. The work could identify potential targets for new treatments that block this process and stop cancer cells from growing.
Measuring cancer risk
In London, Dr Marnix Jansen is developing new ways of measuring the risk of oesophageal cancer coming back after surgery. By working out a way of measuring each stage of oesophageal cancer development, he hopes to help provide patients with a more accurate idea of their risk. This could help make sure radical surgery is only offered to people who are at a high risk and need it most.