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A round-up of this week's research news

Posted by: Research 9 September 2016

A new smartphone app, an immunotherapy drug and a smoke detector for cancer…

In the last few days, there has been lots of exciting news around pancreatic cancer research. Here in the research team, we’ve summarised some of the news stories you might have heard about that could show promise for pancreatic cancer patients.

Smartphone app designed to help pancreatic cancer patients

A smartphone app, funded by Pancreatic Cancer UK, has been developed for pancreatic cancer patients and their families. Featured this week on ITV News, 'My Pancreas' has been designed to offer support through every stage of the treatment process - from initial referral to treatment, how to manage symptoms and where to find further help and support. Medical staff say that it makes explaining pancreatic cancer to patients a lot easier. The app has already received positive feedback, and it is hoped that it can be extended to include other forms of cancer diagnoses. 

We are thrilled with the developments of ‘My Pancreas’, and believe the app could be a useful tool in providing pancreatic cancer patients and their families with access to high quality information.

New drug 'wakes up' immune system to fight pancreatic cancers

In a phase II trial that was reported in the Guardian this week, a new immunotherapy drug called IMM-101 has been shown to extend the lives of some people with metastatic pancreatic cancer and appears to have no side-effects. The drug “wakes up” the immune system to attack cancer cells, making chemotherapy drugs more effective. Current treatment options for pancreatic cancer are limited, and drugs that can make cancer cells more sensitive to current treatment options could have a significant effect of survival rates.

Although the trial was relatively small, the results showed that the combination of the immunotherapy drug with standard chemotherapy was safe and the drug worked on the immune system without any toxic effects. The researchers now need to undertake further research before they can say for sure whether the drug could be beneficial for patients, and another trial is being planned that will only include patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

There has been growing interest in the field of immunology as a new treatment for pancreatic cancer, as research has shown significant promise in other cancer types. New approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment are desperately needed and research into immunotherapy could be ground-breaking for people with pancreatic cancer.

Professor on the hunt for ‘game-changing’ cancer drugs

In a recent news story, world-leading scientist at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, Professor Paul Workman, has committed to an ambitious search for new cancer drugs and therapies in hope of transforming cancer survival rates. The ICR has launched a new five-year research strategy that focuses on discovering more about cancer evolution and effective treatments. Over 500 genes play a role in cancer development, yet we only have drugs for about five per cent of these genes. Statistics like this reinforce that there is still a long way to go in cancer research, including the development of new drugs and treatments. To assist this ambitious search, ICR is expanding their facilities, computer systems and number of staff. We welcome these plans and look forward to continuing work with the ICR researchers who we are already funding.

A revolutionary blood test acts like a smoke detector to pick up cancer

You might have seen in the Independent this week, reports that researchers at Swansea University have developed a blood test that could detect oesophageal cancer before any symptoms are noticeable. They say this could be used to monitor people at high risk of getting the disease.

It has been discovered that mutations occur in red blood cells before any signs of cancer are present and the test works by picking up these changes. This diagnostic tool has been likened to a smoke detector, as it doesn’t detect the cancer – or fire - but instead the mutated blood cells that occur when cancer is present – the smoke. This blood test has the potential to be a simple, non-invasive and cost-effective diagnostic tool that the researchers say could save thousands of lives.

Although the test has so far only been carried out on patients with cancer of the oesophagus, the researchers are beginning new research on pancreatic cancer. This could be a revolutionary diagnostic tool if it could lead to pancreatic cancer being detected at an earlier stage.

While it is fantastic to hear of these new discoveries, pancreatic cancer research continues to be an underfunded area, with only 1.6% of the UK cancer research spend of NCRI partners currently being directed towards the disease. Current treatment options for pancreatic cancer are limited, and most patients diagnosed with this disease have a poor prognosis. It is important to see world-leading scientists and institutions dedicated to advancing pancreatic cancer research with the aim of improving survival rates for patients.

You can read more about the research we are currently funding, including work into immunotherapy, here