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Professor Ellie Barnes and her team win a prestigious Cancer Research UK Early Detection Programme Award to research the earlier detection of hepatocellular carcinoma.

A profile photo of Ellie BarnesWith this £2.5 million, five year award from Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Chief Investigator Ellie Barnes and her team aim to understand more about the changes in the liver as cancer develops and use this to inform new, more sensitive diagnostic tests with the ambition of detecting liver cancer earlier.

Liver cancer is the fastest rising cause of cancer death in the UK, with more than 5,000 deaths per year. Diagnosing liver cancer earlier, when current treatments are more effective, is critical for improving survival. However, this is challenging because symptoms are vague and late-presenting, and are frequently masked by co-occurring liver disease, such as cirrhosis. There are a number of conditions that increase the risk of liver cancer, including viral hepatitis, obesity and alcohol, leading to liver inflammation and cirrhosis. Surveillance of people at higher risk can reduce mortality but effectiveness is limited by the low sensitivity of current detection methods.

In this research programme, scientists aim to learn more about the origins of liver cancer and develop more sensitive detection tests. The Oxford-led team will investigate people with and without cancer to identify factors that will enable better risk assessment and earlier cancer detection. Their research will include analysis of molecular profiles in both the liver tissue and the blood, and advanced liver imaging.

Professor Ellie Barnes, the Chief Investigator for this programme, said “We are delighted to receive funding from CRUK for this research programme. With the support of a world-class team, I believe that this award will allow us to make an important step change in the UK for both HCC detection and the scientific understanding of cancer initiation, with the aim of improving survival of this increasingly prevalent disease.”

Dr Alexis Webb, Cancer Research UK's Early Detection Senior Research Funding Manager, said "At the moment, liver cancer is often diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective. But by developing better techniques to diagnose the disease earlier, a greater number of patients will have more treatment options available to them and a better chance of survival. There is great potential in early detection research, which is why studies like these are so important to help more people survive cancer."

Professor Xin Lu, co-Director of the CRUK Oxford Centre and Director of the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection, commented “I am thrilled that Ellie Barnes and the team have been awarded funding for this important research. This programme showcases Oxford’s previously hidden wealth of existing early detection expertise. With Ellie’s exceptional energy, drive and leadership, and the coordination of this initiative through the recently launched Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection, this talent has been galvanised for an exciting new departure for Oxford early cancer detection research.”

This multidisciplinary team has expertise in cancer biology, clinical hepatology, inflammation and infection, liquid biopsy technologies, multiparametric liver imaging, big data science, primary care health science, and health economics. The team involves many Oxford researchers from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Radcliffe Department of Medicine, Department of Oncology, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, Big Data Institute, Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Statistics. The consortium also includes: researchers from Nottingham University, Newcastle University, Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Bristol, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Aarhus University (Denmark); industry partners Roche Diagnostics, Perspectum Diagnostics, OncImmune and IPDx; and charity partners the British Liver Trust and the Hepatitis C Trust.


You can read more about liver cancer early detection research in Oxford here.

This research programme is funded by a CRUK Early Detection Programme Award. If you are an Oxford-based researcher thinking of applying for external early detection funding, please get in touch with the OxCODE Scientific Coordinator who can help to coordinate your application.


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