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Research Round-Up

Find out the latest information in pancreatic cancer research

Last updated: February 2018

Innovations in treatment

Investigating the environment in which pancreatic cancer cells grow

Until recent years, researchers have largely focused their work on investigating pancreatic cancer tumour cells, how they function and grow. But more and more research is moving towards investigating the environment in which pancreatic cancer cells exist, and how the surrounding cells, or ‘stromal cells’, can help or hinder growth, division and invasion (including our own funded researchers).

A team in Spain has been trying to find out which of these stromal cells help tumour growth in order to find out if they can re-programme the cells and reverse the process. They found a particular gene called SAA1 that is responsible for certain stromal cells helping tumour cells to grow. When the gene was blocked, the stromal cells lost this pro-tumour activity. The team will be investigating the link between stromal cells and other genes. Further details can be found in EurekaAlerts news story.

Personalised medicine

New enhanced scans recommended to aid treatment selection
Within the first NICE guidelines for pancreatic cancer, comes the recommendation that people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer should be offered enhanced scans called PET-CT which would help determine how advanced their cancer is. As our own Anna Jewell comments, this could then help aid treatment decision making and improve outcomes, for example helping to avoid unnecessary surgery in some patients.

Improvements in treatment and care

Shaping future pancreatic cancer care delivery
As you may know, we recently commissioned Oxford Brookes University and the Picker Institute to conduct a national survey that aims to better understand the support needs and care experiences of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer across the UK. The survey results will be important in helping identify ways to improve support services and ultimately shape future service delivery. This month the survey has been widely shared, including within the Nursing Times.

First NICE guidelines on pancreatic cancer published
We were delighted to see the first ever NICE guidelines on pancreatic cancer published this month. NICE guidelines are important because they provide national advice and guidance to improve health and social care, through providing evidence-based recommendations and driving improvements in standards of care. All too often we hear about variations in care and treatment, and we hope with these guidelines we will start to see this change as we discuss in our blog.

Survival outcomes

UK survival outcomes lagging behind other countries worldwide
This month, we commented in the Daily Mail on the news that cancer survival is increasing across the globe, according to a new study called CONCORD-3, published this month in the Lancet. But unacceptably the UK is lagging behind comparable countries for several common cancers, including pancreatic cancer. The study analysed the records of 37.5 million patients with 18 of the most common cancers, comparing survival rates for 71 countries. The data shows that only 6.8 per cent of British pancreatic cancer patients survive for five years after diagnosis, putting the UK 47th out of the 56 countries included.

Research funding

Making the case for increasing research investment
A new US study has made a strong case for the importance of government support for lab research – research studies funding by the government’s National Institutes of Health in the USA contributed to the science that underlies every one of the 210 new drugs approved by the FDA between 2010 and 2016.

Investment in Liverpool to investigate how pancreatic cancer spreads
The BBC reported this month that University of Liverpool scientists have been given £1.5m to research treatments for pancreatic cancer patients. The team, led by Dr Michael Schmid, will be investigating how pancreatic cancer cells can ‘hijack’ surrounding normal cells and use them to rapidly grow. They hope the understanding they gain will be useful in developing new treatments in the future.

£45m investment in clinical trials units
This month, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) announced its intention to continue investment in its network of clinical trials units to a level of £45m. These units are vital in supporting clinical trials which form an important treatment option for people with cancer. The units will support different types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer, including support for trials detailed on our Trialfinder.

Cancer Research UK announces shortlisted Grand Challenge applications
Ten applications have been shortlisted in Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge round. Half of these specifically mention pancreatic cancer. The teams will be given £30k to work up their ideas further for interview later this year. Full details of the shortlisted applications are on Cancer Research UK’s website, but here is a flavour of applications shortlisted:

  • Two applications investigating the role of inflammation in cancer – one aiming to unravel how inflammation causes cancer and the other aiming to treat inflamed cells as a new strategy of fighting cancer.
  • One group is hoping to identify early signs of hard to treat cancers by using machine learning and big data to analyse subtle changes in people’s behavioural and consumer habits.
  • Finally, one group will be aiming to develop and deliver personalised immune-boosting therapies, known as cancer vaccines.

Researcher And Test TubesPublic health, policy and research

Four things to know about e-cigarettes
Public Health England has released a new report on e-cigarettes, updating on research into safety. The current research shows e-cigarettes are less harmfulthan tobacco cigarettes and they can help smokers quit. However as highlighted in Cancer Research UK's blog, the report also says that the public perception of the safety of e-cigarettes has declined in recent years.

New mentoring scheme set up in Edinburgh
A mentoring scheme has been set up between students at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh and a local High School. Students from the centre regularly visiting the school with content for the sessions varying from helping with chemistry and biology coursework, advising on the best ways to search for reliable references online, right through to talking about how the students became scientists in the first place. As discussed in MRC's news piece, the scheme is seen as win-win for all, in fuelling a passion on both sides for progress and what is possible in the future. This is particularly interesting for us as we begin to plan how we can best support and engage with our Future Leaders in pancreatic cancer research.

If you have more questions about pancreatic cancer research, get in touch with Leanne or Nile in the research team by email.