A surgeon, a physicist and a chemist walk into a bar – how cross disciplinary research can push forward early detection – Cancer Research UK

Different perspectives are key

Speaking to Richard and Peter about their Project Award, it’s interesting to hear how their scientific backgrounds shape their interests and motivations. While clinician Richard perhaps sees the algorithm as a useful “black box” that will give him the answer he needs to make informed decisions for his patients, Peter is most interested in what goes on inside it.

“The nice thing about our algorithm is that it isn’t opaque,” Peter describes. “I fundamentally believe that if we can tap into harness machine learning, we’ll be able to look beyond genetics – and that the technology like our algorithm will reveal to us that all cancers have a hidden, common signature. But that’s the way my physicist’s mind works. It might just be science fiction.”

For the moment at least, a single, common cancer signature might well remain within the bounds of science fiction. But finding a way to improve early detection in as many cancers as possible clearly isn’t, says Richard. “Peter makes a good point. Unless we’re open to that possibility, we’re blinkered to potential progress.”

“Working cross-discipline – with physicists, but also with pathologists, advocates, oncologists, basic scientists, radiotherapists, speech and language therapists, ear nose and throat surgeons – has opened my eyes to new possibilities,” Richard elaborates. “Our perspectives overlap – but really, they’re quite different. And that’s the key to making progress for our patients.”

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