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Combining viruses and ultrasound to better target and destroy pancreatic tumours


Recipient: Professor Gail ter Haar 

Host Institution: The Institute of Cancer Research

Title: Combining viruses and ultrasound to better target and destroy pancreatic tumours

Type of award: 2019 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £109,575 co-funded by Pancreatic Cancer UK and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation

Treating pancreatic cancer can be tough for a number of reasons: iIt’s tough to diagnose; tough to treat; and tough to research. But pancreatic cancer is literally tough. As it grows, the cancer forms a dense, fibrous cage that encases the cancer, preventing treatments and even the body’s own defences from accessing the cancer cells. This research aims to overcome this crucial physical barrier to treatment which could make existing treatments much more effective in the context of pancreatic cancer.

The team at the ICR will take their expertise from delivering ultrasound in other physically similar cancer types and apply it in pancreatic cancer. They have developed an ultrasound technique that will be tested to see how it affects the permeability of the pancreatic cancer tumours.

In parallel, specially engineered viruses that specifically target pancreatic cancer cells will be developed and refined. Their aim is to cause a chain reaction whereby cancer cells burst releasing molecules that the body’s own immune system then recognises. This will allow a mass infiltration of immune cells that can destroy similar cancer cells.

The work will culminate by combining the most effective ultrasound approaches and most efficient virus’s and then testing the combination to see if this inhibits tumour growth and improve survival. The ultimate aim: to break down the barriers and let these virus’s initiate an immune chain reaction that destroys the cancerous cells.

Numerous interventions have been tried, tested and failed in pancreatic cancer and a lot of that is down to tumour permeability. Not only does this study aim to test a new exciting combination, but the ultrasound treatment alone could greatly enhance the effectiveness of other therapies new and old alike, ensuring that people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have better treatment options.