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Investigating the use of Disulfiram, a drug for alcohol abstinence, as a treatment for pancreatic cancer

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Professor Weiguang Wang (far right) and members of his team in Wolverhampton

Recipient: Professor Weiguang Wang

Host Institution: University of Wolverhampton

Title: Investigating the use of Disulfiram, a drug for alcohol abstinence, as a treatment for pancreatic cancer   

Type of award: 2016 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £73,417

Pancreatic cancer is incredibly complex, involving multiple different cell types. Many tumours are resistant to treatment by chemo- and radiotherapy and these treatments often come with severe, unwanted side effects. We still do not know enough about pancreatic cancer progression and resistance to therapy to understand why the disease does not respond well to the cancer drugs that are available – or to support the development of new cancer drugs or treatment approaches.

New hopes for more effective treatments in pancreatic cancer have been spurred by the recent identification of pancreatic cancer stem cells and demonstration of their pivotal role in tumour development, spread and resistance to current therapies. There is a desperate need for new drugs that target these stem cells.The cost of developing, testing and bringing a new drug to market is massive, as is equally the time involved in the process. 

One attractive approach that has been taken in recent years is the strategy of testing drugs that are already available on the market but currently purposed as treatments for other conditions.

In this project, Professor Wang’s team will be investigating whether a drug called Disulfiram could be effective against pancreatic cancer. Disulfiram is currently used as a treatment for alcoholism and is safe and cheaply available.Disulfiram can be used to kill cancer stem cells but currently is hampered as a treatment due to its short half-life – it can only exist in the bloodstream for around four minutes. To overcome this, Professor Wang will be developing a new drug delivery system that will allow Disulfiram to stay in the blood stream for longer periods of time, allowing it to be successfully delivered to cancer cells. His team will test this new delivery system with Disulfiram to see how effective it is at killing the pancreatic cancer cells.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Current treatment options for this disease are limited, and most patients diagnosed with this disease have a poor prognosis. New approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment are therefore urgently needed. This is an extremely promising area of investigation and if the researchers are successful could rapidly lead to a ground-breaking clinical trial and potentially a new treatment option to improve outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.