Developing methodologies and clinical devices that exploit chemical and metabolite sensing technology in the early detection and diagnosis of cancer


Detecting tumours at an earlier stage before they have spread around the body can increase the likelihood that surgery and radiotherapy will be curative, and ideally should reduce the impact on the overall quality of life of the patient. Detecting breast and colorectal cancers at an earlier stage of disease has had a significant positive impact on survival rates. There is a strong need for the development of detection and diagnosis methods that will accurately identify a broad range of cancers in patients at a much earlier stage of disease.


To improve cancer detection and diagnosis, methodologies need to be both sensitive and specific – that is, they need to be able to detect low levels of disease (sensitivity) and accurately distinguish cancer from other diseases/ normal biology (specificity). These methods need to determine when patients symptoms are an indication that they might have cancer – rather than something less serious that has similar symptoms (for example a persistent cough in a smoker) and reducing false positives (telling someone they have cancer when they do not) and false negatives (missing a cancer when it is present). New technologies also need to be cost effective such that they can be used at a population level within the primary care setting without vastly increasing the overall cost of treatment.


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Chemical and metabolite sensing

Chemical and metabolite sensing for cancer detection and diagnosis is the core focus of the Convergence Science Centre. Figure 1 shows the breadth of expertise required to develop and translate chemical and metabolite sensing technologies . In biology, the metabolome – as compared with the genome and proteome – has significantly higher variability, thereby presenting significant opportunity to robustly identify changes in disease status and progression.


The identification of high specificity metabolomic signatures of disease status coupled with high-sensitivity, low-cost devices to detect the biological signatures has the potential to have significant impact in cancer detection and diagnosis, as they can be:

  • Applied to a variety of biofluids, including blood, urine and exhaled breath, in addition to direct application on tumour material
  • Used to detect both systemic changes in response to the presence of cancer and signals directly arising from the tumour
  • Used to understand the relationship between the microbiome and cancer development
  • Address gaps in the fundamental understanding of early disease biology and disease recurrence
  • Used to better understand how pre-existing diseases (co-morbidities) increase cancer risk and predisposition


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    Figure 1.  Development of methodologies and technologies for metabolite and chemical sensing in cancer early detection


Innovations in cancer diagnostics and detection methods

With a focus on clinical translation, the Centre will also support the development of methods to detect and diagnose cancers using:

  • Optical technologies – including novel endoscopic devices to visualise small cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions in situ
  • DNA- and protein-based sensor development using well characterised panels of cancer biomarkers
  • AI and machine learning applied to radiography
  • Data science to interpret signals from diagnostic devices and present them in a clinically utilisable format
  • Novel clinical trial design and statistical methods to support the validation of clinical devices
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If you have any questions relating to the Integrative Early Cancer Detection and Diagnosis theme please contact Andrea McConnell (