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New research into the spread of pancreatic cancer begins at University of Southampton

Posted by: Comms 14 July 2015

New research into the spread of cancerous cells, funded by Pancreatic Cancer UK, PLANETS Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund, is under way at the University of Southampton.

Jo Todd

Dr Jo Tod is leading the two-year, full-time research programme to investigate how proteins on the surface of cancerous cells encourage those cells to spread, and how they can influence normal cells to help a tumour in the pancreas to grow. Through the research, Dr Tod and her team hope to gain a better understanding of this complex process, which could lead to new ways of treating pancreatic cancer in the future.

Pancreatic Cancer UK has donated over £47,000 to the programme thanks to a grant from the Masonic Samaritan Fund, with the donation being matched by PLANETS Charity.

The research is vital because, of the 8,800 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, only about four per cent of people will survive for five years or more. This is because they are often diagnosed when the disease is too far advanced for surgery; the only curative treatment. One person dies of pancreatic cancer every hour in the UK.

Dr Tod and her team have already discovered a link between the proteins avb6 and Eps8. Both appear in high levels in more than 70 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer. The new research programme will seek to further understand the process of how avb6 and Eps8 interact to grow an existing tumour and help pancreatic cancer cells spread, with a view to looking at these proteins as potential future treatments.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “It is shocking that survival rates for pancreatic cancer have improved very little since the early 1970s. If we could further understand how and why cancerous cells spread or not, we could understand how this process could help stop or slow the advance of the disease. This could lead us to new treatments for the disease which could mean thousands of people could live far longer after diagnosis.”

She added: “Dr Tod is one of the charity’s Future Research Leaders. Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Leaders Fund aims to attract and support new talent in to the field of pancreatic cancer, fostering the  next generation of scientific leaders as well as helping to retain expertise within the field. We are delighted to be able to support Dr Tod in the next stage of her career.”

Layla Stephen, PLANETS Charity Fund Manager, said: “PLANETS are delighted to partner with Pancreatic Cancer UK and match this research fund to support Jo, to enable her to take forward this research project.

“The PLANETS team at University Hospital Southampton feel that Jo’s research is of paramount importance as it focuses on improving the understanding of how and why pancreatic cancer tumours spread and therefore, we will happily continue to invest in this research aiming to fill any knowledge gaps of this devastating disease.”

Dr Tod said: “I am very excited to have the opportunity to carry out this research and am extremely grateful for the support from Pancreatic Cancer UK, the Masonic Samaritan Fund and PLANETS Charity. Myself and my team are really looking forward to getting started, as this new programme will give us the chance to build on the extremely exciting results we have already generated.

“We have established a clear link between two proteins, and discovered they have the ability not only to promote pancreatic cancer cell movement, but also to play critical roles in helping an existing tumour to grow. We now have the opportunity to develop our understanding of this complex process, which we hope will one day help pave the way to developing effective treatments for pancreatic cancer.”

John McCrohan, Grants Director and Deputy Chief Executive at the Masonic Samaritan Fund, said: “Dr Jo Tod’s project gives us the opportunity to fund cutting edge research with the potential to develop truly effective treatments which could extend the lives of thousands of people with pancreatic cancer. It’s a valuable cause that Freemasons and their families are delighted to support.”

Head to our Research section find out more about Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Research Leaders Fund.