MCRC Springboard Awards

What is the MCRC Springboard Award?


With generous support from the CRUK Manchester Centre and Cancer Research Horizons, The Manchester Cancer Research Centre launched the Springboard Award to support early-stage innovations showing the greatest potential to deliver patient impact with a pump prime funding programme that will accelerate these projects to reaching their full potential.


Working with the commercialisation teams at both The University of Manchester Innovation Factory and Cancer Research Horizons, we will use the funding to launch exciting ideas and overcome the financial obstacles that academics typically face when translating an idea to a product or service.


Along with key funding, successful/selected projects will have access to an infrastructure of industry connections, commercial advice, and business-planning workshops.


Key themes of the projects include:


  • Cancer Early Detection
  • Radiotherapy BioAdaptation
  • Cancer Biomarkers
  • Digital Cancer Centre
  • Integrative Pathology
  • Experimental Cancer Medicine

Projects that have been funded by the award


Blood-based biomarker discovery for the diagnosis and early detection of Biliary Tract Cancers (BTC)


This work focusses primarily on overcoming the diagnostic challenge posed by Biliary Tract Cancer (BTC), a rare cancer with a rising worldwide incidence, which typically requires repeated costly and invasive biopsy procedures to diagnose. The translational project builds on an existing programme of work evaluating improved cancer diagnosis through blood-based biomarker detection. Wider application of the methodologies in this project for diagnosing BTC have the potential to be both prognostic and predictive in BTC management, with future potential for earlier cancer detection and screening in high-risk populations.


This work is a collaboration between the CRUK National Biomarker Centre, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and MCRC Biobank.


Project leads: 

  • Dr Alicia-Marie Conway, Academic Clinical Lecturer, The University of Manchester and CRUK National Biomarker Centre
  • Dr Alexandra Clipson, Staff Scientist, Deputy Team Leader of the Nucleic Acid Biomarkers Team, CRUK Cancer Biomarker Centre
Dr Alicia-Marie Conway

Dr Alicia-Marie Conway

Dr Alexandra Clipson

Dr Alexandra Clipson

Most biliary tract cancers (BTC) are unfortunately diagnosed at an advanced, incurable stage, when treatment options are very limited. Incidence of BTC is rising but the diagnosis remains challenging and invasive. In this project we will further develop existing blood-based approaches for cancer detection and diagnosis to identify and subtype BTCs.

Using plasma samples banked within the MCRC biobank we will perform circulating cell-free DNA methylation profiling and evaluate subtype specific DNA methylation patterns that can detect and differentiate BTC subtypes. Developing this blood test could enable earlier diagnosis of BTCs at a curable stage and negate the need for patients to have repeated invasive biopsies.

Dr Alicia-Marie Conway and Dr Alexandra Clipson

Investigating the use of liver function MR images for bio-adaption in radiotherapy


Liver function can be a major complication associated with liver radiotherapy. Liver function is currently assessed based on clinical symptoms, biopsy and blood parameters, which can be respectively quite subjective, invasive and time-consuming. This team is working to demonstrate the feasibility of using a non-invasive imaging technique to assess liver function in radiotherapy treated patients. They will investigate if changes in liver function are seen during the treatment, and if there is a correlation with the radiotherapy dose. The results from this study will provide data on how these images could be used on the MR-Linac to adapt a patient’s treatment to take account of their liver function in real time, ultimately reducing the number of patients who suffer from complications, improving treatments and outcomes.


Project lead: 

  • Dr Robert Chuter, Principal Clinical Scientist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Lecturer at The University of Manchester

Dr Robert Chuter


“Funding from MCRC and our industry partner Perspectum has enabled us to purchase a new imaging sequence for our MR scanner allowing us to test this imaging technique, as well as pay for scanner time and staff time. This has opened up the possibility for the first time of investigating liver function for radiotherapy patients in great detail with a simple scan.”

Dr Robert Chuter

Next-generation phantoms for MRI-Linac guided radiotherapy


Image-guided radiotherapy, particularly MR-Linac (magnetic-resonance-linear-accelerator), can transform treatment outcomes in several challenging cancers. Phantoms, manufactured objects that mimic the response of tissues to imaging and radiotherapy, are critical for future development of these techniques. For example, they can be imaged under irradiation for long periods, which is impossible with human volunteers. However, current phantoms don’t accommodate tissue movement or deformation. This team are developing phantoms that mimic tissue and tumour motion from respiration, enabling the development of more precise radiotherapy guidance, concentrating dose in the tumour and minimising dose to healthy tissue. Their initial focus is on improving radiotherapy treatments for non-small-cell lung cancer, in which developments are particularly hampered by the lack of realistic phantoms.


Project leads: 


  • Professor Brian Derby, Professor of Materials Science, The University of Manchester
  • Dr Stephen Edmondson, Senior Lead in Polymer Chemistry, The University of Manchester
Professor Brian Derby

Professor Brian Derby

Dr Stephen Edmondson

Dr Stephen Edmondson

This funding is highly significant for our work as it will enable us to optimise MRI Phantoms, objects that mimic healthy and diseased tissues, which will see the development of improved MRI Linac radiotherapy treatment for a range of cancers. In turn, this has great prospects for improving cancer outcomes for our patients.

Professor Brian Derby and Dr Stephen Edmondson

Comparison of gene-derived and oxygen-enhanced MRI-derived hypoxia markers in head and neck cancer


Hypoxia, a state of low oxygen, is a hallmark of solid tumours and an indicator of poor prognosis and resistance to radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Tumour hypoxia is a dynamic process (tumours become more- or less-hypoxic over time), and at present there is no way to track hypoxia during the treatment pathway in clinical practice. This team has been working on methods to image regions of hypoxia, using oxygen-enhanced MRI, in patients with head and neck cancer. The technique has the potential for areas of hypoxia to be identified and in turn, such areas could be dose-boosted to improve local control, or for the identification of less hypoxic tumours, which could undergo radiotherapy de-escalation. We now aim to incorporate biological validation by comparing OE-MRI derived parameters with a tumour derived 26-gene hypoxia signature that is specific to HNC.


Project lead: 

  • Michael Dubec, Principal Clinical Scientist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and PhD student at The University of Manchester

Michael Dubec


“The funds obtained from the MCRC Springboard Award will be used to source the tumour biopsy tissue samples, process and extract the RNA and obtain a tumour hypoxia score which can be compared with the OE-MRI derived tumour hypoxia scores in HNC. We are eager to start the next phase of this project, employing two exciting techniques that have been developed in Manchester.”

Michael Dubec

Professor Robert Bristow, Director of Manchester Cancer Research Centre


“I’m extremely pleased to be supporting four innovative projects through the MCRC Springboard Award. Thanks to the generous funding and support from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Centre, Cancer Research Horizons and University of Manchester Innovation Factory, we’re able to nurture new cancer research projects. Supporting individuals to explore routes for commercialisation and innovation are core goals for the MCRC and we’re excited to see what developments come from these projects.”

Headshot of Professor Rob Bristow


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