A cross-Atlantic research alliance hopes to shift cancer treatment from the “expensive firefighting of late-stage disease” to “rapid, cost-effective” intervention at the earliest point. By creating a “living laboratory” of human tissue, they hope to “birth” a cancer which would help them better understand its origins, and ultimately prevent it from developing.
Scientists are already investigating how to take cells from someone with a high risk of developing cancer so they can reproduce them using a 3D printer, to test under what conditions they are most likely to turn cancerous.
The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) is made up of experts from Cancer Research UK, Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, University College London and the University of Manchester.
Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, said: “One of the problems in early detection science is we never get to see a cancer being born.
“By the time you find a person with cancer it is already established. It evolves over a lifetime. It starts off as one thing but fragments and mutates over time.
“So if you can essentially give birth to a cancer in a piece of synthetic human tissue in the lab, you can see what it’s like on day one.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the alliance was an example of “the transatlantic partnership at its very best”.
He said: “Every two minutes, someone in the UK has their world turned upside down when they are diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to UK researchers and our world-beating NHS, more people than ever are surviving.
I am pleased to welcome this new alliance, driven by Cancer Research UK.
“Our brilliant scientists will work together to develop detection technologies and implement them in our health service, so we can find cancer earlier and save people’s lives.”
Survival rates increase three-fold if caught early at stage one, when the cancer is usually small and localised.
While there are screening programmes for bowel, breast and cervical cancer, uptake is low.
The alliance will be given £55million over the next five years. It hopes to attract further funding from philanthropists and by working closely with the pharmaceutical industry.