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Spotlight on Research Innovation Fund team: University of Birmingham

Posted by: Research 15 November 2013

Pancreatic Cancer UK's Research Innovation Fund recently awarded nearly £0.5 million to projects around the UK. Amongst the seven grants is that awarded to Professor Roy Bicknell and team at the University of Birmingham, currently worked on the detection, imaging and therapy of pancreatic cancer. Recently we met with Professor Bicknell and Dr Peter Noy, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Research in the University of Birmingham. Dr Noy explains here what their work is about…

Dr Peter Noy (left) and Professor Roy Bicknell at the Institute of Biomedical Research, University of Birmingham

"Since pioneering research in the 1970's, it has been established that tumours rely upon a blood supply to grow. Stopping cancer cells from access to a blood supply will stop the tumour from growing and eventually it will be unable to survive (essentially starving the tumour). But, no one has yet identified a way to cut off the blood supply to a cancer without damaging normal vessels or without affecting normal vessel function (i.e. its role in healing wounds). For this reason, Professor Bicknell has spent the last 15 years working to identify differences between tumour blood vessels and normal blood vessels. Over the last 5 years we have identified a molecule that is found at high levels on vessels within several cancers, including pancreatic cancer, compared to blood vessels from normal organs. We have been working to understand this molecule in more detail on what it does, which cancers it is found in and what point during tumour growth it is found.

Importantly, this molecule can also be detected in the blood of cancer patients. We found high levels in patients with pancreatic cancer, however, we cannot detect it in blood samples from healthy volunteers. As a result we saw the innovation fund, provided by PCUK, as an excellent opportunity to further investigate this molecule in pancreatic cancer. We are now working with oncologists at the Queen Elizabeth's Hospital in Birmingham to look at a wider range of cases of pancreatic cancer and determine exactly when this molecule can be detected in the blood.

Soon we will be appointing a new member of the group to work on this full time and they will be staining biopsies and analysing blood samples over the first half of the year. After that, we will then be investigating new ways to image pancreatic cancer, targeting this molecule, with a view to developing a scan (like an x-ray) that could help identify a tumour sooner."

To find out more about our researchers and grants awarded through the Research Innovation Fund, see our Current Projects page.