Identifying new treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer

Dr Gianluca Mucciolo
Location: University of Cambridge
Date: January 2024
Project status: Ongoing

The challenge 

Pancreatic tumours are unusual in that as well as cancer cells, they are also made up of extremely large numbers of non-cancerous or “normal” cells of various different types, including immune cells and signaling molecules. These normal cells are reprogrammed by the cancer cells so that they help the tumour grow, hide it from the immune system, and protect it from treatments that aim to destroy it. Preventing these normal cells from helping the tumour in this way is an exciting area of research which, if successful, could make therapies more effective and improve pancreatic cancer survival rates. 

The project 

Dr Mucciolo is interested in a type of normal cell called cancer-associated fibroblasts or CAFs, which are known to help tumours grow and progress. The vast majority of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other places in the body. In this project, Dr Mucciolo hopes to identify new treatments that are also effective against these secondary tumours – called metastases. So far, not much is known about the role of CAFs in pancreatic cancer metastases, but Dr Mucciolo thinks that they might act differently to CAFs found in the original pancreatic tumour. The protective role of the CAFs could be one reason that we do not currently have any successful treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer. 

The hope 

Understanding more about the role of CAFs in tumours both in the pancreas as well as those that have spread to other locations could help to develop new and more effective treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Meet the researcher

Dr Gianluca Mucciolo