Current research into oesophageal cancer
For the past 120 years, we’ve been making discoveries that have saved countless lives. But we have so much more to do. Our strategy sets out how we'll accelerate progress towards a better future.
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 is running a trial called BEST4. The trial will explore if the Cytosponge, a ‘sponge-on-a-string' test for Barrett’s oesophagus developed by Fitzgerald, can prevent deaths from oesophageal cancer when offered as a screening test to people on long-term medication for heartburn – one of the most common Barrett’s oesophagus symptoms.
It will also investigate if the Cytosponge, coupled with additional lab biomarker tests, can be used to monitor people already diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus instead of endoscopy, an invasive hospital procedure.
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.
In London, Dr Marnix Jansen is using machine learning techniques to develop a new tool to help with diagnosis and risk stratification. Using this tool to examine tissue samples could reduce overdiagnosis in people with precancerous lesions of oesophageal cancer.