Rebecca Fitzgerald

Rebecca Fitzgerald FMedSci is a British medical researcher (born September 1968) whose work focuses on the early detection and treatment of oesophageal cancers.[1] She is a tenured Professor of Cancer Prevention and Program Leader at the Medical Research Council Cancer Unit of the University of Cambridge.[2][3][4] In addition to her professorship, Fitzgerald is currently the Director of Medical Studies for Trinity College, Cambridge, where she is also a Fellow. She is also an Honorary Consultant in Gastroenterology and General Medicine at Cambridge’s Addenbrooke's Hospital.[1][4] She is also the co-leader of the CRUK Cambridge Institute Early Detection Programme.[5]

Rebecca Clare Fitzgerald
BornSeptember 1968 (age 51)
Alma mater
Scientific career
FieldsOncology, Gastroenterology


Fitzgerald received a MA Cantab and a MB BChir in Medicine from Girton College, Cambridge in 1992. In 1997, she completed an MD at Stanford University under the guidance of George Triadafilopoulos.[1]

Career and researchEdit

Fitzgerald’s postdoctoral work took place at the Department of Adult and Paediatric Gastroenterology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and at The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, where she was supervised by Michael Farthing and funded by an MRC Clinical Scientist award.[1]

After her postdoctoral positions, Fitzgerald began her own research group at the MRC Cancer Unit in Cambridge. In 2004, Fitzgerald and her group developed Cytosponge, a novel screening test for Barrett’s oesophagus, a common precursor to the often deadly cancer oesophageal adenocarcinoma.[6] Cytosponge consists of a pill-sized capsule that contains a sponge, and is attached to a string. The capsule is swallowed, which expands into a sponge in the stomach. The sponge is then pulled out by the string, collecting cells from the oesophageal wall along the way.[3] Subsequent biological analysis of the collected cells determines whether a patient has Barrett’s.[7] Cytosponge has been praised for its minimally invasive, economical design compared to the current standard for identifying Barrett’s oesophagus, the endoscopy.[8][6] The procedure is now in its third clinical trial, which will see it tested on 9,000 patients in the UK.[4]

Fitzgerald has contributed to the public dialog regarding cancer research, having appeared on broadcasts for BBC Radio 4 and ABC Radio Australia.[1][9]

Fitzgerald is leading a new trial in collaboration with Owlstone Medical that will be testing the company's Breath Biopsy® technology for detecting cancer.[10] Because early cancer symptoms can be quite vague, new technologies are needed to try and pin-point the signals that will lead to a diagnosis. This pilot study will capture and examine the volatile molecules found in breath in the hopes of identifying signatures of metabolites from cancer cells. The team hopes to collect samples from 1,500 individuals by 2021 and will compare signatures from people with different types of cancer to healthy individuals.

Awards and honoursEdit

In recognition of her work on Cytosponge and the early treatment of Barrett’s oesophagus, Fitzgerald was awarded the Westminster Medal in 2004. In 2008, she was the recipient of a Lister Prize Fellowship, and in 2008 she received an NHS Innovation Prize. In 2013, Fitzgerald won an NIHR Research Professorship for her work.[1]

The Royal College of Physicians appointed Fitzgerald as its Goulstonian Lecturer. She was also awarded the British Society of Gastroenterology’s Sir Francis Avery Jones Award. In 2013, Fitzgerald was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Fitzgerald has also won a grant from the Evelyn Trust “as she works to develop effective screening that will benefit patients worldwide.”.[1][11] In 2018, Fitzgerald was awarded the Jane Wardle Prevention and Early Diagnosis prize, which recognises individuals who have produced world-leading research in the field of prevention and early detection of cancer.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cancer Unit, MRC. "Biography". Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  2. ^ Cancer Unit, MRC. "Biography". Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  3. ^ a b Paul Brackley (November 29, 2017). ""14 innovative women in Cambridge leading the way in healthcare"". Cambridge Independent. Cambridge Independent. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  4. ^ a b c ""Professor Fitzgerald's 'pill on a string' enters third clinical trial"". Trinity College. Trinity College. March 15, 2017. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  5. ^ Programme, CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection (2019-03-07). "Cambridge Cancer…". CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  6. ^ a b Helen Briggs (June 18, 2013). ""'Quiet epidemic' of male cancer in UK"". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  7. ^ Alphonso van Marsh (November 21, 2014). ""Sponge test a low-cost, easier way to spot signs of cancer"". CBS News. CBS News. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  8. ^ Michelle Roberts (November 4, 2014). ""'Sponge' test for gullet cancer looks promising"". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  9. ^ ""'Pill on a string' detects early cancer"". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  10. ^ "A breath test with the goal of detecting multiple cancers is ready to start trials". Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. 2019-01-03. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  11. ^ ""Early detection of oesophageal cancer"". The Evelyn Trust. The Evelyn Trust. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  12. ^ ""Rebecca Fitzgerald awarded with the Jane Wardle Prevention and Early Diagnosis prize"". MRC Cancer Unit. MRC Cancer Unit. Retrieved 2018-12-13.