Rebecca Fitzgerald

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Rebecca Fitzgerald
Rebecca Clare Fitgerald

September 1968 (age 55)
Alma mater
Scientific career

Rebecca Clare Fitzgerald OBE FMedSci (born September 1968) is a British medical researcher whose work focuses on the early detection and treatment of oesophageal cancers.[1][2][3] She is a tenured Professor of Cancer Prevention and is the founding Director at the Early Cancer Institute of the University of Cambridge.[4][5][6] 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 Cancer Medicine at Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital.[3][6] She is also the leader of the CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme and Cambridge lead for the CRUK Alliance of Cancer Early Detection (ACED).[7]


Fitzgerald received a Master of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery in Medicine from the University of Cambridge where she was an undergraduate student of Girton College, Cambridge in 1992. In 1997, she completed an Doctor of Medicine at Stanford University under the guidance of George Triadafilopoulos.[3]

Career and research[edit]

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.[3]

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.[8] 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.[5] Subsequent biological analysis of the collected cells determines whether a patient has Barrett's.[9] Cytosponge has been praised for its minimally invasive, economical design compared to the current standard for identifying Barrett's oesophagus, the endoscopy.[10][8] The procedure has completed its third clinical trial, which saw it tested on 9,000 patients in the UK.[6] The results of the BEST3 trial were published in The Lancet in summer 2020 showing that the Cytosponge-TFF3 test can identify ten times more people with Barrett's oesophagus than current GP care.[11]

Fitzgerald has contributed to the public dialogue regarding cancer research, having appeared on broadcasts for BBC Radio 4 and ABC Radio Australia.[3][12]

Fitzgerald is leading a new trial in collaboration with Owlstone Medical that will be testing the company's Breath Biopsy technology for detecting cancer.[13] 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.

Honours and awards[edit]

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 a Research Professorship at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for her work.[3] In 2014, she was awarded the United European Gastroenterology Research Prize of €100.000.[14]

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 (FMedSci). Fitzgerald has also won a grant from the Evelyn Trust “as she works to develop effective screening that will benefit patients worldwide.”.[3][15] 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.[16]

Fitzgerald was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2022 Birthday Honours for services to cancer research.[17] She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2024.[18]


  1. ^ a b Rebecca Fitzgerald publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ Rebecca Fitzgerald publications from Europe PubMed Central
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Cancer Unit, MRC. "Biography". Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  4. ^ Cancer Unit, MRC. "Biography". Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  5. ^ a b Paul Brackley (29 November 2017). "14 innovative women in Cambridge leading the way in healthcare". Cambridge Independent. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Professor Fitzgerald's 'pill on a string' enters third clinical trial". Trinity College. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  7. ^ Programme, CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection (7 March 2019). "Cambridge Cancer…". CRUK Cambridge Centre Early Detection Programme. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  8. ^ a b Helen Briggs (18 June 2013). "'Quiet epidemic' of male cancer in UK". BBC. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  9. ^ Alphonso van Marsh (21 November 2014). "Sponge test a low-cost, easier way to spot signs of cancer". CBS News. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  10. ^ Michelle Roberts (4 November 2014). "'Sponge' test for gullet cancer looks promising". BBC. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  11. ^ Rebecca C Fitzgerald; Massimiliano di Pietro; Maria O'Donovan; et al. (1 August 2020). "Cytosponge-trefoil factor 3 versus usual care to identify Barrett's oesophagus in a primary care setting: a multicentre, pragmatic, randomised controlled trial". The Lancet. 396 (10247): 333–344. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31099-0. ISSN 0140-6736. PMC 7408501. PMID 32738955. Wikidata Q98186348.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "'Pill on a string' detects early cancer". BBC. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  13. ^ "A breath test with the goal of detecting multiple cancers is ready to start trials". Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. 3 January 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  14. ^ "UEG career highlight: Rebecca Fitzgerald, winner of the UEG Research Prize 2014". United European Gastroenterology Journal. 3 (3). Sage Publications: 225. 1 June 2015. doi:10.1177/2050640615586655. ISSN 2050-6406. PMC 4480542. Retrieved 6 January 2024.
  15. ^ "Early detection of oesophageal cancer". The Evelyn Trust. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  16. ^ "Rebecca Fitzgerald awarded with the Jane Wardle Prevention and Early Diagnosis prize". MRC Cancer Unit. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  17. ^ "No. 63714". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 2022. p. B13.
  18. ^ "Outstanding scientists elected as Fellows of the Royal Society". Royal Society. Retrieved 18 May 2024.