‘Liquid biopsies’ to reveal cancer’s secrets

Professor Jacqui Shaw

Professor Jacqui Shaw


Professor Jacqui Shaw leads a research group at the University of Leicester investigating the potential of blood-based tests, ‘liquid biopsies’, to help track how cancers evolve and spread, with a focus on breast cancer.

These blood tests look for DNA which is released into the blood as tumours grow. This DNA, called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), can reveal the state of the tumour, its location and potentially its weaknesses, which could be used to select the best treatments. 

They are also studying whether liquid biopsies can help to detect breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. She also hopes these tests can help uncover how breast cancers change as they grow and spread, and spot if cancers become resistant to treatment. This could help personalise medicine, making it more effective, and spare women the need for repeated biopsies. Using blood tests to diagnose and monitor tumours will also be much kinder and less invasive for people with cancer.

She is also working with Professor Charlie Swanton in the ambitious TRACERx national lung cancer study, to analyse how lung cancers from 850 patients change at the genetic level over time, from diagnosis and throughout treatment. The results from TRACERx will transform our understanding of lung cancer and could lead to improvements in how doctors treat the disease.