University of Oxford researchers awarded more than £140,000 to develop new techniques to detect pancreatic cancer

Two research projects at the University of Oxford have today been awarded research grants by Pancreatic Cancer UK to continue vital research into the early detection of pancreatic cancer.

Dr Bart Cornelissen has been awarded more than £74,000 to create a new imaging agent that can be picked up using a PET scanner, whilst Professor Zhengming Chen and Dr Michael Holmes will create a blood test which could be used to detect pancreatic cancer. 80 per cent of people with the disease are not diagnosed until the cancer is at an advanced stage, so it is vital that new ways of diagnosing the disease earlier are discovered.

More than 100 people die from pancreatic cancer in Oxfordshire on average per year, with more than 8,800 dying across the UK. A shocking five per cent of people survive for five or more years after diagnosis, and survival rates have barely improved for the past 40 years. Despite this, over the last decade only 1% of total UK cancer research spend has been dedicated to the disease.

Over the next year Dr Cornelissen’s team will be looking closely at a protein called p53, which is found to be abnormal in around three quarters of patients with pancreatic cancer, and developing a method of detecting it using a PET scanner.

Dr Cornelissen said that if his team is able to do this, they may be able to identify cancerous cells sooner and therefore increase the number of people diagnosed earlier.

“We’re very pleased our research has been chosen for funding and that we’ll be able to continue our work developing a possible new imaging agent to detect the p53 protein,” Dr Cornelissen said.

Professor Chen and Dr Holmes’ team will investigate whether a blood test could identify individuals with pancreatic cancer before they start to experience symptoms. They will be using a large cohort study called the Kadoorie Biobank and working with leading scientists in Sweden, using a blood test that has already been shown to be effective in identifying people who have pancreatic cancer and who are experiencing symptoms.

Under this project they will be investigating whether the blood test can be used to identify people who have pancreatic cancer many years before symptoms are experienced.

Professor Chen said that if their team is successful, the test could be used to diagnose pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage, enabling more patients to have treatment earlier and improve their chances of living longer.

“Current treatment options for pancreatic cancer are limited, and most patients diagnosed with the disease have a poor prognosis. This is an extremely promising area of investigation and if we’re successful could lead to new options to improve outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer,” Professor Chen said.

The grants have been awarded as part of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s fourth annual Research Innovation Fund (RIF) grants scheme.

This year the charity has awarded more than £500,000 to seven pancreatic cancer researchers based in institutions throughout the UK.

The core aim of the Pancreatic Cancer UK Research Innovation Fund is to spur creative and cutting edge ideas and approaches in pancreatic cancer research, including those that have shown promise in other areas of cancer research.

Funding like this, which allows a researcher to investigate a new direction of research, may make all the difference in finding new pieces of the puzzle, leading to a better understanding of pancreatic cancer, and ultimately a better chance of patients being diagnosed earlier and living longer with the disease.

Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, Alex Ford, said she’s thrilled the charity is able to back such innovative and promising research taking place in the UK to fight pancreatic cancer. To date Pancreatic Cancer UK has invested more than £2 million to the scheme.

“Pancreatic cancer is a tough disease which historically has been sidelined in terms of crucial research funding. We’re so proud to be leading the way in tackling this by investing in world-leading research at the cutting edge of science, to uncover the breakthroughs we so desperately need to transform the future for people affected.

“We’re extremely excited to be working with Dr Cornelissen, Professor Chen, Dr Holmes and their teams, and we are confident that both project have the potential to make important contributions to our quest to take on pancreatic cancer together,” Ms Ford said.

Today's announcement coincides with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, a natinal campaign which runs throughout the month of November, which will see people in Oxford coming together to spread the work about the disease. 

For more information about Pancreatic Cancer UK or the Research Innovation Fund, visit http://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/research

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