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Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute


If we’re going to take cancer down then we’re going to need new and innovative ideas. In 2015, we launched our Pioneer Award, a funding scheme that allowed any researcher, no matter what their background or track record, to pitch their idea to a committee with a whole range of science and tech expertise. If the idea seemed scientifically sound they could get up to £200,000 over two years to test it out.

The response has been amazing. So in the spirit of British Science Week, which starts today, we caught up with some of our Pioneer Award winners to see where they’re projects have taken them, if they’ve discovered anything surprising and any challenges that have cropped up along the way.

Dr Sarah Bohndiek

Dr Sarah Bohndiek, a physicist from the University of Cambridge, received a Pioneer Award with her colleague Dr George Gordon in 2017. They’re hoping to use the full rainbow of light to detect the changes in cells lining the oesophagus that might develop into cancer.

Normal cameras can’t detect all the different colours in light or the angles that it travels at. But our new camera can. We know that when cancer cells start to develop they absorb and reflect light differently to healthy cells, so this camera might be able to detect these early changes.

So far, we’ve created a prototype of one of these cameras and we’ve already got some imaging data. At the moment we’re taking pictures of a Rubix cube, but next year we’re hoping to stick it onto an endoscope to see if it can be used to photograph the throat and capture changing cells in the oesophagus.

The biggest challenge we’ve faced so far is trying to get our special filter on commercial cameras. It’s really tricky, we’ve broken a lot along the way. At the moment we’re using Raspberry Pi cameras, which are actually children’s cameras, because they’re only £20 a pop! If we manage to get the camera to work on an endoscope then we’re thinking of trying to develop it further so it can be used in robotic surgery.

9 Mar 2018

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