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Development of a blood test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer

Recipient: Professor Zhengming Chen and Dr Michael Holmes

Host Institution: University of Oxford

Title: Development of a blood test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer

Type of award: 2016 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £73,852

Pancreatic cancer is a complex and hard to treat cancer. Currently there are no suitable markers or simple tests to support screening and early diagnosis of the disease, and very few effective drug treatments. Most patients, about 80 or 90%, are diagnosed when the disease is too advanced for surgery – the only potentially curative treatment for pancreatic cancer. New ways of picking up pancreatic cancer earlier, such as blood tests, are therefore fundamental in order to improve pancreatic cancer survival rates.

What we are trying to achieve: This project will investigate whether a blood test can identify individuals with pancreatic cancer before they start to experience symptoms, which could allow them to undergo potentially curative surgical treatment.

In previous research from Professor Borrebaeck’s group has found that a test has been able to identify pancreatic cancer in patients already diagnosed with the disease. The researchers now will investigate whether this can be used as a tool to identify individuals who are free from symptoms that later go on to develop pancreatic cancer.

In addition, the researchers will also investigate the genetic factors and biological processes that lead to pancreatic cancer. This could shed light on the reasons that people develop the disease and open new avenues of research into preventative cancer drugs.

The difference this research could make: If successful, the blood test could enable early detection of pancreatic cancer in people at high risk of developing the disease. This could enable more patients to undergo surgery early, the only current potentially curative treatment. Unless we tackle this critical challenge we stand no long-term hope of improving survival, or of ensuring that everyone diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has the chance to live for as long as they can, as well as they can.