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Personalising treatment for pancreatic cancer with cancer stem cells

Recipient: Professor Christopher Heeschen

Host Institution: Queen Mary, University of London

Title: Personalising treatment for pancreatic cancer with cancer stem cells

Type of award: 2014 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £74,848

New hopes for more effective treatments in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) have been spurred by the recent identification of pancreatic cancer stem cells (CSCs) and demonstration of their pivotal role in tumour development, spread and resistance to current therapies.

Thus, in order to more effectively treat PDAC we need to consider this intratumoural functional hierarchy. This does not only require the identification of novel therapeutic targets against CSCs, but also tailoring of these treatments to the specific functional characteristics of each individual tumour (personalised medicine).

The researchers have identified and further exploited an inherent feature of CSCs, namely autofluorescence, which provided the basis for a novel CSC-focused drug response screening platform. This early phase low-throughput screening assay is based on freshly isolated pancreatic CSCs and their more differentiated progenies. Beyond its primary utilisation as a centralised screening service for hospitals to provide personalised medicine to patients, the platform can also be used as a screening service for pharmaceutical companies to facilitate pre-clinical decision-making and as a surrogate endpoint for early phase clinical trials.

Consequently, the researchers are seeking further funding to take this discovery to the next step, specifically to further develop the platform for clinical use and demonstrate its predictive power across a representative panel of patients with PDAC.