Cancer Biomarkers and Liquid Biopsies

Sample tubes on a laboratory bench

Biomarkers are an essential diagnostic aid in cancer sciences. They help researchers and doctors understand what tumour a person might have, or indicate the presence of risk factors that can lead to an individual developing cancer later in life.

Cancer Biomarkers

The term ‘cancer biomarkers’ covers a range of biological entities including: proteins, genes, hormones, among many others.

Biomarkers are present throughout the body, such as within urine, blood and other medical samples. Identifying, quantifying, and predicting cancer biomarkers is therefore of high importance, as it can help detect cancer sooner or deliver more personalised medicine.

Much of our cancer biomarker research takes place within the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarkers Centre led by Professor Caroline Dive. This is complemented by activity at the Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre and the Manchester Molecular Pathology Innovation Centre.

Ultralow temperature freezers in the OCRB

Cancer Biomarkers Centre

At the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarkers Centre (CBC), scientists are particularly interested in blood-based biomarkers for personalised medicine, with an emphasis on the development, validation and qualification of liquid biopsies to aid cancer diagnosis, treatment stratification, prognosis, and the detection of relapse and resistance.


Work from the CBC includes circulating tumour cell (CTC), circulating free DNA (cfDNA) and circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) based approaches. The team were the first to develop CTC-derived xenograft (CDX) models for small cell lung cancer (SCLC). This growing panel of SCLC CDX models are enabling our investigations into the biology of SCLC and its mechanisms for dissemination. These models also facilitate testing of new therapies in a directly patient-relevant setting. Scientists are now able to culture CTCs directly from lung cancer patient’s blood samples, and are evaluating new approaches to test experimental therapies in these CTC cultures with the goal of sending a result back to the clinic to support patient treatment decisions.


Biomarker researchers work closely with the Experimental Cancer Medicine team to provide robust prognostic, predictive and pharmacodynamic biomarker analysis to Good Clinical Practice (GCP) standards for a substantial portfolio of innovative clinical trials and experimental medicine projects. In particular, the TARGET trial is a flagship programme, aimed at molecular profiling of circulating tumour DNA to stratify patients to early phase clinical trials.


The established Tumour Immunology and Inflammation Monitoring Laboratory (TIIML) enables researchers to monitor immune responses in novel immunotherapy trials via studies on tumour biopsies and blood samples, and discover novel prognostic and predictive immunotherapy biomarkers.

Manchester Cancer Research Centre | Cancer Biomarkers and Liquid Biopsies

Professor Caroline Dive CBE explains how her work developing liquid biopsies to hunt cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and are circulating in the bloodstream. Read about her work in the Cancer Futures article “Developing Pioneering Treatments“.

Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre

The Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre (SBDC) is focused on the identification of tissue-based biomarkers that could be used to diagnose or inform the treatment of various diseases, including cancer. With 15 high-end mass spectrometers, the Centre is one of the biggest clinical proteomics facilities in the world and the largest in Europe. Their state-of-the-art proteomic facilities add considerable strength to the cancer specific research in Manchester, enhancing clinical proteomics based biomarker discovery of prognostic and predictive biomarkers and assessment of proof of mechanism and concept pharmacodynamic biomarkers in clinical trials.


Manchester Molecular Pathology Innovation Centre

The Manchester Molecular Pathology Innovation Centre (MMPathIC) translates stratified medicine and biomarker research into clinically usable tests that could improve and speed up the process of diagnosing, predicting and identifying the best treatment approach within the NHS. Delivering novel diagnostics and molecular pathology tests to the clinic or market involves navigating the development pathway, to establish the analytical accuracy, clinical and cost effectiveness, and clinical utility of a novel biomarker.


MMPathIC works with and assists organisations who are at different steps of this pathway. To ensure the greatest likelihood of delivering new tests to the clinic, all potential projects are evaluated for their likelihood of meeting a value proposition. The value proposition asks whether the new technology does the same thing at a lower cost, or if it is better for the same price, or both. MMPathIC’s approach is to assist organisations in defining precise product niches and determine whether development is likely to yield a saleable product. MMPathIC is one of six molecular pathology nodes funded by MRC and EPSRC. Their work is supported by the academic cancer pathology group within The Christie NHS Foundation Trust relating to specific programs, including the Prostate Cancer UK FASTMAN Movember Centre of Excellence.

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