Multimillion pound boost for Manchester scientists to detect cancer earlier

The University of Manchester will be a partner in a new transatlantic research alliance announced today (Monday, 21 October) to help more people beat cancer through early detection.

Cancer Research UK will invest up to £40 million over the next five years into the International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED).

ACED is a partnership between Cancer Research UK, Canary Center at Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, UCL and The University of Manchester. Contributions from the Alliance’s US partners will take potential investment to more than £55 million.

By combining the ‘fire power’ of some of the leading research institutions in the world in early detection, ACED will accelerate breakthroughs, leading to quicker benefits for patients.

A patient’s chance of surviving their disease improves dramatically when cancer is found and treated earlier.

Great strides have been made through existing screening programmes, such as for bowel, breast and cervical cancer, and increasing public awareness and GP urgent referral of patients with suspicious symptoms. However, for many cancer types no screening tools exist and new technologies for detecting cancer have been slow to emerge.

In Manchester the funding will support scientists and doctors to take forward new cancer screening projects in the city.

As part of the Alliance, researchers will continue to develop a range of ongoing community early detection projects – from lung health checks in car parks, to ‘pee in a pot’ tests for gynaecological cancers.

Other projects that will benefit from the Alliance are part of the Prevention and Early Detection research theme to drive early detection research from the lab to the clinic. These include work to deliver lung health checks for people who could be at risk of developing lung cancer in some of the city’s most deprived areas.

Another Manchester team is developing new biological models to identify how healthy breast tissue becomes cancerous. The hope is that this work could help to reduce overdiagnosis in people who are at low risk of developing breast cancer, by supporting scientists to better identify which changes identified in breast screenings could lead to cancer, and which won’t.

Professor Rob Bristow, a prostate cancer specialist and ACED co-director at The University of Manchester, says the city is one of the best places in the world for early detection research because of its devolved healthcare system.

He said: “Manchester’s unique health system makes it easier and faster to involve patients in testing new cancer screening and early detection programmes, which could one day help us identify cancers before patients have symptoms.

“Our vision at Manchester is to make early detection a reality for all patients, giving them the best chance of surviving their cancer, or better yet, avoiding it altogether. The best way to do this is to focus the new targeted tests in high-risk populations.

“Additionally, cancer diagnoses must be made earlier as many patients suffer from multiple health conditions including diabetes and heart disease. If diagnosed at an earlier stage, you could improve cancer survival before other diseases limit treatment choice and the chance of cure.”

Understanding the biology of early cancers and pre-cancerous states will allow doctors to find accurate ways to spot the disease earlier and where necessary, treat it effectively. It could even enable ‘precision prevention’ – where the disease could be stopped from ever occurring in the first place.

Professor Rob Bristow
“Manchester’s unique health system makes it easier and faster to involve patients in testing new cancer screening and early detection programmes, which could one day help us identify cancers before patients have symptoms
Professor Rob Bristow

UK statistics highlight the major improvements in survival that could be achieved.

Five-year survival for six different types of cancer is more than three times higher if the disease is diagnosed at stage one, when the tumour tends to be small and remains localised, compared with survival when diagnosed at stage four, when the cancer tends to be larger and has started to invade surrounding tissue and other organs.

Advances in early detection technologies will help decrease late-stage diagnosis and increase the proportion of people diagnosed at an early and treatable stage, so a future for more patients can be secured.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Now is the time to be ambitious and develop effective ways to detect cancer earlier. It’s an area of research where we have the potential to completely change the future of cancer treatment, turning it into a manageable and beatable disease for more people.

“Real progress in early detection can’t be achieved by a single organisation. Benefits for patients will only be realised if early cancer detection leaders from around the world come together. No more siloes, no more missed opportunities; let us tackle this problem together and beat cancer.”

One in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives but the good news is, thanks to research, more people are surviving the disease than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

The Prime Minister said: “Every two minutes, someone in the UK has their world turned upside down when they are diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to the pioneering work of UK researchers and our world-beating NHS, more people are surviving than ever.

“However, there is more to do to detect and cure this disease earlier. That is why I am pleased to welcome this new UK-US alliance, driven by Cancer Research UK.

“This is the transatlantic partnership at its very best. Our brilliant scientists will be able to work together to develop detection technologies and implement them in our health service, so we can find cancer earlier and ultimately save people’s lives.”

Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on people’s lives.


Cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons


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