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Research could lead to “major stumbling block” in treatment being conquered

Posted by: Comms 6 April 2017

Research which found an existing stroke treatment doubled the survival of mice with pancreatic cancer could lead to many more people with the disease living for longer in future.

The research (1) published in the journal Science Translational Medicine found a new way to make chemotherapy treatment more effective, therefore allowing the mice to live for longer. Researchers focused on the hard tissue around the tumour called a stroma, which prevents chemotherapy and other treatments working in many pancreatic cancer patients.

The researchers targeted a type of protein which strengthens the stroma, using a stroke treatment which is known to hamper this specific effect of the protein. In this way, researchers were able to weaken the stroma, and enable the chemotherapy treatments Gemcitabine and Abraxane to reach the tumour far more effectively.

There are very few treatments for pancreatic cancer, and 80 per cent of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when they are likely to live for just two to six months. The disease attracts just 1.4 per cent of the UK cancer research budget per year.

The researchers in Australia are now set to test the new technique in people with pancreatic cancer.

Anna Jewell, Director of Operations at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We are excited about these results, because they could be a significant step forward in conquering a major stumbling block in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Many patients die too soon because the stroma prevents treatments from working by creating a barrier around the tumour. If we can find ways to weaken or eliminate this barrier, it will be game changing for pancreatic cancer treatment. It would vastly improve the chances of successful treatment, and allow many more patients to live for longer in the future.

“Pancreatic cancer is tough and it can seem as though we have a mountain to climb before we improve treatments and offer patients the chance to spend more precious time with their families. But results like these remind us that we are making progress and if more major research funders treat the disease as a priority, we will begin to see the breakthroughs in treatments and survival that are so vital for patients and families.”


(1)   Claire Vennin and colleagues, ‘Transient tissue priming via ROCK inhibition uncouples pancreatic cancer progression, sensitivity to chemotherapy, and metastasis’, published in Science Translational Medicine, 05 Apr 2017