‘Sponge on a string’ boost for cancer services in Lancashire and South Cumbria

Date posted: 13th May 2022 ‘Sponge on a string’ boost for cancer services in Lancashire and South Cumbria thumbnail image

An innovative ‘sponge on a string’ diagnostic test is set to improve cancer care and ease the pressure on health services in Lancashire and South Cumbria.

The potentially life-saving device, known as Cytosponge, will help identify people most at risk of oesophageal (gullet) cancer and be available close to people’s homes.
Cytosponge involves the patient swallowing a capsule attached to a ‘string’. The capsule dissolves after a few minutes to release a sponge that gathers oesophagus cells for analysis after it is removed.  

Dr Neil Smith, cancer director at the Lancashire and South Cumbria Health and Care Partnership, said:

“Identifying the 80 to 85 per cent of patients who don’t have cancerous symptoms means giving them peace of mind and avoiding unnecessary hospital visits. At the same time, we can make sure the 15 to 20 per cent of patients who should attend hospital for endoscopy are going on to much shorter waiting lists.”  

Mike Kenny, acting co-director of enterprise and growth at the Innovation Agency, said:

“Endoscopy services are a priority in our region and we have focused a lot of energies there. We were able to use our knowledge of the health and care system to make sure this fantastic innovation gained a foothold in GP practice, where it will have the greatest impact.”

The test will be offered to people on endoscopy waiting lists who have conditions such as Barrett’s oesophagus (when the normal cells lining the gullet have been replaced by abnormal cells, increasing the risk of developing oesophageal cancer). The test is minimally invasive and generally more comfortable, needs no sedation and can be delivered in a nurse-led clinic in about 15 minutes.

By contrast, an endoscopy requires a team of specialists in hospital and can take several hours of preparation. 

The pandemic has increased the demand for endoscopy, a procedure in which a camera attached to a flexible tube is inserted into the patient’s body, with Lancashire and South Cumbria having the fourth highest rate of upper gastrointestinal endoscopies in England.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust trialled Cytosponge as part of a national project. It will now be trialled in a selected number of GP surgeries or Community Diagnostic Centres in Lancashire. 

The Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance has worked with partners including the Innovation Agency to secure £500,000 from the SBRI Healthcare fund to spread Cytosponge from hospital services into the community.

Cytosponge was developed by global healthcare technology company Medtronic and Cambridge diagnostics specialists Cyted.

Marcel Gehrung, CEO and co-founder at Cyted, said:

“We are delighted to be expanding the use of the Cytosponge test to community settings in the North West of England with support from the SBRI. This will support the recovery of endoscopy waiting times in one of the regions under most demand across the country, helping patients access potentially life-saving cancer treatment sooner and relieving some stress and concern during a difficult time.”  

SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) Healthcare is a national award-winning scheme, offering development funding to innovators and entrepreneurs who have disruptive solutions to solve identified healthcare problems in the NHS. It is an NHS England and NHS Improvement initiative, supported by England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), which includes the Innovation Agency.

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