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Research Round-Up

Find out the latest information in pancreatic cancer research

Last updated: July 2018

Risk factors and early diagnosis

A possible breath test for pancreatic cancer?

A team at Imperial College London have released results showing early promise for a possible breath test to diagnose pancreatic cancer.

In a validation study led by Professor George Hanna, researchers analysed breath samples of 132 patients at St Mary’s Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and found the test can correctly identify cancer from benign conditions in 81 per cent of patients who had the disease.

Whilst this is useful and shows that the test does work, the study only compared groups of patients who had either confirmed pancreatic cancer or no disease. As we know, currently most patients are diagnosed too late for surgery, so this team will need to explore whether the test might pick up cancer in patients who have vague symptoms or are at risk, and also how early in cancer development. Read the full story on the Imperial College London website.

US study shows that Late-onset diabetes in ethnic minorities could be an early sign of pancreatic cancer

Late onset diabetes could be a warning sign for pancreatic cancer for black and Hispanic populations in particular, according to new study. The study conducted in the US looked at the health data of a multi-ethnic cohort, but found that African Americans with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in later life had a higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer relative to other ethnic groups. 

Innovations in treatment

Mice treated with gemcitabine and cannabis oil live three times as long

Cannabis oil (or CBD oil) continues to make the news whenever it is highlighted as having a possible therapeutic use. This week we learned of a new study looking at the possible benefits of combining CBD oil with chemotherapy in mice, with results suggesting that there could be life-prolonging benefits. Mice were given a combination treatment, and researchers recorded the inhibition of a protein called GRP55 which can promote tumour proliferation in the pancreas. The results showed that mice who were given the combination of CBD oil lived in some cases three times longer than mice who received gemcitabine alone. This is an early study and no human trials have yet been conducted, however what is interesting is that both gemcitabine and CBD oil are readily available drugs which could mean human trials getting underway relatively soon. Full results available in Nature Oncogene.

The Pancreatic Cancer UK Grand Challenge hits the headlines!

Following some excellent persistence from our Media team, the Pancreatic cancer UK Grand Challenge project got some brilliant media coverage this week.

The story focused on the promising area of research called immunotherapy, and involved an interview with Professor Nick Lemoine at Barts Cancer Institute talking about how he and his team are building on twenty years of research into the field. The news story is featured in the Evening Standard and Daily Mail. If you’ve not seen our video which describes the project, take a look now.

A review of complementary therapies for pancreatic cancer

Vitamin C? Aspirin? Carcumin? There are lots of articles all over the internet which claim certain drugs and medicines in your local pharmacy or supermarket have remarkable health benefits for pancreatic cancer. Sometimes, this has the nefarious aim of targeting people who are simply unable to access clinical trials for possible treatments which are more rooted in scientific evidence. These drugs are known as complementary therapies, and this article is a discussion on which of them have been shown to have some benefit in pancreatic cancer, and which haven’t.

Could the deadly ‘death cap’ mushroom help to battle cancer?

University of British Columbia chemists are working to unleash the cancer fighting potential of Amanita phalloides  —  a particularly nasty poisonous mushroom known as the ‘death cap’. Toxins in the mushrooms have the deadly ability to stop transcription, the process of DNA producing protein signals which control cell behaviour. Scientists spotted an opportunity to potentially turn this toxin in to an anti-cancer drug – with exciting results.  

Nanovaccine for pancreatic cancer

A team of nano-technology experts in Iowa and Nebraska are developing a nanovaccine which could help make immunotherapies for pancreatic cancer more effective.

Personalised medicine

Individualised care for patients over 70, to help them live longer

A clinical trial in Germany explored how individualised treatment for elderly patients with pancreatic cancer might help them withstand stronger forms of chemotherapy, and therefore live longer. The GrantPax study utilised Comprehensive Geriatric Assessments to tailor dosages and clinical support to help people over 70 years old cope with treatments for pancreatic cancer. The full journal article can be read on the BMC Cancer website.

PRECISION Panc opens in Manchester

The next centre to open its doors to patients as part of the PRECISION Panc study is the Christie in Manchester. Each enrolled patient will undergo a tumour biopsy that will be used to help reveal the biological characteristics of the patients’ tumours. Samples will be studied by scientists at The University of Manchester as well as at the Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Centre laboratories in Glasgow, and the results may then be used to help match patients to the most appropriate currently available clinical trial, testing treatments that are likely to work for that patient’s cancer.

Survival outcomes

Pancreatic cancer cell shape determines where it may spread to

We know that pancreatic cancer can often spread to the lungs and the liver. We also know that cancer spreading to the liver can be worse for survival than cancer spreading to the lungs. This prompted a team at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, to try and understand what determines the eventual destination of cells that spread, and if we can make spreading to the liver any less likely to boost chances for survival. This fascinating study analysed cell shape and its role in metastasis, which could have a real impact for patients diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

Visits and events

Our trip to see the Pancreatic cancer Dietary Assesment Project: PanDAImg 0274

A group made up of staff, trustees, Research Involvement Network members, fundraisers and campaigners, went to visit the Christie in Manchester on 23 July. We heard about the prospect of the newly available proton beam technology to benefit patients in the future, and also about how nutritional therapy might help patients in palliative care live longer.