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Future Leader: Declan Whyte

Declan Whyte 2

Project titleExploiting vulnerabilities in pancreatic cancer

Supervisor: Dr Daniel Murphy

Going back to basics

Unlike many other cancers, there is still a lot that we don’t know about the biology of pancreatic cancer, how it progresses or why it is so resistant to current treatments. Scientists are starting to unpick this puzzle and are reaching a better understanding of the intricacies of the disease. This is essential if we are to understand why some drugs work and others don’t, and if we’re going to make progress in discovering new treatment options that can substantially improve chances of survival.

An essential player in pancreatic cancer cell growth

Scientists have previously discovered that a protein called ‘Myc’ (pronounced 'mick') plays a crucial role in the growth, division and function of pancreatic cancer cells. Raised levels of Myc are often found in people with pancreatic cancer and research in the lab has indicated that by reducing levels of Myc, we could dramatically improve survival outcomes. It is therefore thought that if we could introduce a drug that blocks or removes Myc, this could be an effective treatment option for pancreatic cancer.

Myc itself, however, is not easy to block which makes this strategy more difficult. New approaches are being investigated that block Myc indirectly.

Interfering with healthy cell function

Future Leader Declan proposes that rather than trying to block the protein Myc, we should instead interfere with the chemical reactions involved in maintaining the health of the cells that are home to Myc.

Using sophisticated techniques developed in Dr Daniel Murphy’s lab, Declan will test the effects of removing key functions of these cells. He hopes he will discover potential new drugs that can be taken forward in pre-clinical trials and in the future could improve outcomes for people affected by pancreatic cancer.