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An investigation of small molecules produced by pancreatic cells to inform the development of new treatments

Recipient: Dr Leandro Castellano

Host Institution: Imperial College London

Title: An investigation of small molecules produced by pancreatic cells to inform the development of new treatments

Type of award: 2016 Research Innovation Fund

Funding: £69,950

Pancreatic cancer is incredibly complex, involving multiple different cell types. Many tumours are resistant to treatment by chemo- and radiotherapy and these treatments often come with severe, unwanted side effects. We still do not know enough about pancreatic cancer progression and resistance to therapy to understand why the disease does not respond well to the cancer drugs that are available – or to support the development of new cancer drugs or treatment approaches.

Patients with pancreatic cancer therefore desperately need new approaches to finding pancreatic cancer treatments that improve survival rates and outcomes.

Dr Castellano’s team will be taking a deeper look at cancer stem cells, a subpopulation of cells that grow slowly, can produce new cancer cells and are resistant to existing treatments. They have identified a set of molecules that are found in abundance in these cancer stem cells called microRNAs. By reducing the levels of these microRNAs they have found that pancreatic cancer cells become less mobile and the population of cancer stem cells reduces drastically.

Dr Castellano believes that if his team are able to develop a drug that removes the microRNAs, they could prevent pancreatic cancer from spreading and at the same time remove the chemo-resistant cancer stem cells.The difference this research could make: Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer related deaths. Current treatment options for this disease are limited, and most patients diagnosed with this disease have a poor prognosis. New approaches to pancreatic cancer treatment are therefore urgently needed.

This is an extremely promising area of investigation and if the researchers are successful could lead to new treatment options to improve outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.