New University of Cambridge research project will uncover drivers of pancreatic

University of Cambridge researchers will embark on an 18-month research project designed to discover proteins implicated in the progression of the deadliest common cancer.

Prof Jason Carroll and his team will deploy techniques they have used successfully in breast cancer research to study which proteins and genes cause uncontrolled cell growth in pancreatic cancer, enabling it to spread rapidly.

Pancreatic cancer - a 3D illustration of a malignant tumour
Pancreatic cancer – a 3D illustration of a malignant tumour

Funded by £100,000 from the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, the team hopes to identify ways to switch these proteins off and target them with drugs.

More than half of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within three months of diagnosis.

Surgery is the only potentially curative treatment, but only one in 10 patients are diagnosed in time to receive it and only three in 10 patients are able to have life-extending chemotherapy.

Pancreatic Cancer UK says barely any progress has been made in tackling the disease, compared to other common cancers, because just three per cent of the UK’s total cancer research budget is spent on it.

Prof Carroll said: “Pancreatic cancer patients currently have just one option when it comes to curative treatment and 80 per cent of them are diagnosed too late to receive it.

“We need to do better for future patients. Pancreatic cancer cells are notorious for dividing and multiplying incredibly fast, even in the presence of treatments, meaning the cancer can grow and spread rapidly, which is why so many are diagnosed too late for treatment.

“We hope to understand this process better, find out what proteins are involved and use this information to develop new drug targets that block these proteins. I hope we can translate our success with breast cancer to pancreatic cancer and transform how the disease is treated in the future.”

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of the common cancers
Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of the common cancers

The Carroll lab at the University of Cambridge Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute has explored how estrogen receptor (ER) causes gene transcription and how this contributes to the progression of breast cancer. It uses molecular, genomic and proteomic approaches to identify what determines tumour progression in order to develop novel therapies that specifically target them.

Results from the lab’s investigations have led to ongoing clinical trials – a feat they hope to repeat now with pancreatic cancer by understanding how each protein they identify leads to abnormal growth.

The project is one of eight to receive a grant from the Pancreatic Cancer UK Research Innovation Fund, created to support innovative and crucial research into the causes, treatment and detection of pancreatic cancer.

Since its inception, the fund has awarded more than £3m to research projects, which have gone on to attract more than £22m of additional funding.

Dr Chris Macdonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Tragically, the majority of pancreatic cancer patients will hear, ‘Sorry, we cannot do anything to help you’ yet they are all desperate to try anything they can to get better.

“It’s unacceptable that we have no other curative treatment options to offer patients than surgery, which tragically the majority won’t be eligible for due to their cancer being found too late.

“Pancreatic cancer has been overlooked and underfunded for too long, leaving new treatments out of reach.

“We are on a mission to change this through our Research Innovation Fund and we can’t wait to see what Professor Carroll and his team uncover.”

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