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New research could mean patients receive quicker treatment

Posted by: Comms 15 February 2017

Research published this evening (Wednesday, 15th February) in the journal Nature could mean that patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (pNETs) receive the right treatment more quickly, allowing them to potentially live for longer. 

The study was led by Professor Aldo Scarpa at AOUI Verona, Italy, with significant contributions from the University of Glasgow. Professor Scarpa is a member of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Scientific Advisory Board. The team examined around 100 pNET tumours, looking at the features and molecular make-up of the tumours, for example investigating genes that caused them to grow.

The team found that in pNET tumours, a significant number of gene mutations (around 17%) were inherited from family members, a much higher proportion than previously estimated. The researchers commented that this might refocus future research, for example investigating these gene mutations in people who have an increased risk of developing the disease, and finding new treatments to counter the genetic alterations identified.

Their findings also built on previous research that has identified different sub-types of pNETs. Pancreatic Cancer UK says this new research increases our understanding of the characteristics of these sub-types, pinpointing for the first time genetic pathways involved in the development of the disease and how it progresses. This is significant, as in the future it could lead to a test to allow doctors to accurately identify which sub-type of pNET tumour a patient has. This could in turn lead to patients receiving the treatment most likely to be effective for their particular sub-type of pNET tumour more quickly.

Around five per cent of pancreatic cancers are pNETs, which are tumours that start in the cells in the pancreas that produce hormones, called endocrine cells. 

Leanne Reynolds, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “This promising research could lead to every patient with a pNET tumour receiving the right treatment at the right time, which could give them the chance to live for longer. While there are existing treatments for pNETs, we can’t currently predict which treatment would be most effective for each patient, but these new insights could change that in the future. 

“We must now invest in further research to develop tests to show us the sub-type of pNET tumour each patient has, which could then allow them to be fast tracked to the best treatment for them. Because 80 per cent of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, matching patients with the most effective treatment as quickly as possible is absolutely vital. That’s why we will be funding research into this area as part of our new five-year research strategy, which we launched today.”  

Find out more information about pNETs