2020 has seen people across the globe impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Science is no exception – with many researchers focusing on the drive to develop treatments for the virus.
But it doesn’t mean that cancer progress has been forgotten. From new oesophageal cancer screening methods to AI collaborations with Google, here are some of the top stories from the year.
COVID-19 and cancer
Without a doubt, the biggest story of the year continues to be the COVID-19 pandemic. We spent this year providing rolling updates covering the pandemic and its impact on people affected by cancer.
COVID-19 has had far reaching effects on all aspects of healthcare in the UK, from disrupting clinical trials and putting a hold on screening services to leaving millions of people across the country waiting for cancer tests, treatment and care.
Over the year, we’ve heard from people affected by cancer who’ve been impacted by COVID-19….
- Coronavirus reports – Part 1: “I’m taking things week by week”
- Coronavirus reports – Part 2: “We’re ahead when it comes to isolation”
- Coronavirus reports: “As a Black man with advanced prostate cancer, who wouldn’t be worried?”
This year, many Cancer Research UK scientists used their considerable expertise to try to help the efforts against COVID-19. One lab in particular used their work on anti-cancer viruses to help develop a virus that could target the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.And with the latest global push into developing and rolling out a vaccine, we’ve been covering the science behind the research and what it could mean for people with cancer.
Trialling a sponge on a string for oesophageal cancer
This year, results from an unusual early detection test were released. Cytosponge – a sponge inside a pill that collects cells from the oesophagus as it’s pulled back out – presents an opportunity for doctors to spot an early precursor to oesophageal cancer. Researchers discovered that this technique found 10 times more cases of Barrett’s oesophagus in the people that were offered the Cytosponge compared with what GP’s ordinarily do. The results went down extremely well with our community.
Developed over the last 20 years, Cytosponge is now being introduced in Scotland as a ‘simpler alternative to endoscopy’ in a £500,000 programme. And the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have developed a briefing to support NHS commissioners and staff who are considering implementing Cytosponge into services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A grand challenge with guts
A Cancer Research UK research team working on one of our Cancer Grand Challenges have been tracing the toxic fingerprint of a bug found in our gut.
Using miniature replicas of the gut and huge genetic databases, the team found that a toxic strain of E.coli could be implicated in the development of bowel cancer.
By getting a better understanding of the early triggers that lead to bowel cancer, it could help doctors to detect it earlier, at a stage when treatment is more likely to be successful. Not only that, understanding how the bacteria inside the microbiome affects cancer could help researchers develop new treatments.
Making a live biobank
Cells taken from cancer patients hold key clues for researchers trying to solve the questions that different cancers pose. Because of this, biobanks containing human material taken from across the body – are vital for research. The issue is that in order to preserve cells, they have to either be dropped in a solution of formaldehyde or frozen at -80 degrees – both of which kill the cells.
A lab in Manchester has bucked that trend, developing a biobank of living tissue – pushing forward research into ovarian cancer.
Training AI to help improve breast cancer screening
Cancer Research UK scientists have created a database of anonymised breast cancer scans, which has been used by Google Health and scientists at Imperial college London to develop AI software that could correctly identify cancers in the database of over 2.5 million images with a similar degree of accuracy as the experts.
We spoke to experts to find how this early stage algorithm was trained and what these initial findings could mean for the NHS and cancer services in the future.
Learning about the lungs
Our scientists have been trying to glean more about how lung cancer works. Researchers on the TRACERx project have been mapping how non-small cell lung cancer tumours impact the immune system and how it adapts to counter the tumour. In addition to that, we’ve funded one of the world’s largest precision medicine clinical trials over the last 5 years and the results are finally in.
And new data from the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) show the clearest signs yet that one of the most promising concepts in modern cancer medicine – targeted therapy – seems to be having an impact in lung cancer.
These are only a few of the many stories that have come out this year and things move ever onwards. Thanks for all your generous donations throughout 2020 that made this brilliant work possible. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Cancer Research UK.
kevin April 12, 2021
Every new page i look at on your site means i am asked once again the same question about cookies. This must just be an IT issue. Or, why not assume ‘reject all’ unless someone opts in.
Mary L Edwards January 21, 2021
Thank you very much for this blog. I am one of the organisers of the Oxford Bladder Cancer Support Group. Do you know of any developments in 2020 re bladder cancer?
Katie Roberts January 21, 2021
Thanks for your question. We published a piece last year on some work led by Professor Anne Kiltie in Oxford, who is investigating the relationship between the gut microbiome and radiosensitisation in bladder cancer. You can read the full article on our blog.
You can find all our stories on bladder cancer on our website.
Katie, Cancer Research UK
Mandy January 11, 2021
Congratulations on these wonderful developments during a particularly difficult time. Thank you.
Mccabe Fiona (Oncology nurse) January 11, 2021
I have found reading your articles extremely interesting. Particularly the cyto spine to detect Barrets disease. Having had an ogd myself this sounds simple, pretty painless and so much more cost effective. Thanks for the updates.
Malcolm vasey January 8, 2021
Could you tell me what studies are being done to combat Duodenal cancer. Although any cancer deserves 100% research I never see this type mentioned.
Joy argent January 6, 2021
Very interesting thanks for all your hard work j
Joy argent January 6, 2021
Very interesting thanks for all your hard work
Joy argent January 6, 2021
Dave L January 5, 2021
May God be with you in your important work.
David James Michael Lench January 4, 2021
What a good read in these gloomy Covid days.Smart work from the research workers ‘re the sponge treatment and that big hard one – lung cancer-a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and let’s hope the figures improve in the coming months.Well done!
Mike January 4, 2021
All this innovative research gives one hope that one day we will be able to treat all cancers successfully. Truly wonderul research.
Heather January 3, 2021
Thanks for keeping me in the loop.
Well done all of you.
Sarah Wrighy January 2, 2021
Amazing discoveries and life saving progress.i thank God for your wonderful work. Bless you and thank you
Hils January 2, 2021
Thank you for your continued hard work during the pandemic and the excellent progress made in finding cures for so many different cancers
Hils January 2, 2021
Thank you for your continued hard work during the pandemic
Jane Thwaite January 1, 2021
Excellent information and the news update enables us to read as much or as little as we like. At the same time it enables us to see how much research is going on and how fortunate we are to have scientists who are interested in improving life for cancer sufferers.
Linda Wiltshire January 1, 2021
Fantastic to hear of the new techniques and research on going by experts. Such important developments.
Jane Robson December 31, 2020
Thanks for this information. Although very technical it is all so positive and all the wonderful people doing this research will eventually beat cancer.
Les December 31, 2020
Fascinating stuff. We all only have to give a bit each month to get cancer beaten. I’m confident that all cancer will be eradicated.
The sooner the better.😊
Lilian williams December 31, 2020
I am 79 this year I had lung cancer but I was diagnosed in dec 2019 had my op in Feb 2020 now I am free of cancer thank you Whistion hospital cancer research.
Maureen George. December 31, 2020
I’m 73 now and have had bowel and thyroid cancer. Thanks to our brilliant NHS I’m free of them both.
I can’t thank all in the NHS enough👏
Keep up the excellent work that you all do. Thank you xxx
Alison December 31, 2020
Thankyou for all the work that goes on.