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Future Leader: Sigrid Fey

Photo Sigrid Fey Compressed

Project titleStopping pancreatic cancer in its tracks

Supervisor: Professor Owen Sansom

Going back to basics

We still do not know enough about the biology of pancreatic cancer, how it progresses or why it is so resistant to current treatments. We need to go back to basics to reach a greater understanding of the intricacies of the disease. For other cancers we have seen great progress in the development of new drugs and new types of treatment that can substantially improve chances of survival – we desperately need to see the same in pancreatic cancer.

Adding fuel to the fire

Like any other part of the body, pancreatic cancer cells need fuel in order to grow, including oxygen and nutrients. When deprived of this fuel, the cells must re-programme their metabolism in order to survive.

Pancreatic cancer is unique to other cancers, as it is surrounded by a protective shell called the stroma. This is often very fibrous and dense, forming an impenetrable layer that can account for up to 90% of the tumour volume.

This shell can make it difficult for pancreatic cancer cells to get the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow. However, within the stroma there is a complex network of cells including fibroblasts, stellate cells, immune cells, blood vessels and proteins. This network of cells can also itself provide nutrients for pancreatic cancer cells - the essential fuel they need to thrive.

Cutting off the food supply

One strategy to fight against pancreatic cancer might be to cut off the fuel supply and deprive cancer cells of the nutrients they need to survive. This might then stop the tumour from growing and even make it shrink.

Working with Academy Director Professor Owen Sansom, Future Leader Sigrid will be investigating how pancreatic cancer cells fuel themselves. She’ll also study how the stroma surrounding the cancer cells helps to do this and whether she can target the fuel-producing processes as part of a new pancreatic cancer treatment.