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PCRF funds new research worth £1.2 million

13 November 2014

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund has invested £1.2 million into seven ambitious new projects to tackle the UK’s deadliest cancer.

This is the second year that PCRF has invested over £1 million in a single funding round, enabling innovative research that could lead to new treatments for this highly aggressive and complex cancer.

The announcement also coincides with World Pancreatic Cancer Day – a collaboration between pancreatic cancer charities and organisations around the world to raise awareness of the cancer that has seen barely any improvement in survival rates for 40 years.

The charity’s research spend now totals more than £5 million, supporting 34 world-leading projects at universities across the UK and Ireland.

PCRF’s founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks, said: “This is an amazing achievement, and is thanks to the tireless fundraising of our supporters around the country who know that funding research is the only way to accelerate the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools that will improve patients’ chances of survival.”

The seven newly funded projects are:

Dr Jason Bruce, The University of Manchester
Pancreatic cancer cells have a unique way of extracting energy from nutrients that help them survive and grow. This source of energy is specifically used to pump calcium out of the cell - a crucial function, as high levels of calcium are toxic and cause cells to die.  This could be a major weakness of pancreatic cancer cells. Dr Bruce’s project aims to find new ways to selectively cut off this energy supply to the calcium pumps with new drugs. Such drugs would selectively kill cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed as they generate their energy from a different source.

Dr Michael Schmid, University of Liverpool
Pancreatic tumours release cancer cells which circulate in the bloodstream and it’s thought that white blood cells help these circulating cancer cells nest, proliferate and form new tumours in other organs. Dr Schmid believes this is the weakest link in the chain of events leading to cancer spread, since only a small proportion of these cancer cells are able to successfully grow at distant sites. This new project aims to identify how white blood cells aid this process, so that they can design and test ways to prevent this.

Dr Yaohe Wang, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London
Building on his previous PCRF-funded project, which modified common viruses to specifically infect and kill pancreatic cancer cells, Dr Wang’s new project aims to show how combining this ‘virotherapy’ approach with drugs that boost the immune system’s activity will help to kill any pancreatic cancer cells left in the body following surgery to remove tumours - and could prevent the disease from recurring.

Dr Patrick Forde, Cork Cancer Research Centre, University College Cork
Dr Forde’s project will evaluate whether targeted short intense electric pulses  – which temporarily make tissue more porous – will increase the absorption of chemotherapy drugs in pancreatic tumours. This treatment has shown positive results when trialled with inoperable skin cancers.  If similar results are seen with pancreatic cancer tissue, the team will develop the treatment further through the use of a minimally invasive ‘keyhole’ medical device developed at the Research Centre.

Prof Laura Machesky, Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, University of Glasgow
Pancreatic cancer cells produce a protein called fascin1, to help them move and spread faster.  Prof Machesky’s team has already shown that disrupting fascin1 reduces the spread of pancreatic cancer in mice, and this new project aims to deepen their understanding of how fascin1 works. The team has also identified a number of chemical compounds that affect fascin1 and will join forces with drug discovery colleagues to test how these affect the migration, invasion and spread of pancreatic cancer cells. 

Prof Hemant Kocher and Dr Richard Grose, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London
The team will progress its previous PCRF-funded research which showed how pancreatic cancer cells hijacks stellate cells in the stroma – the tumour’s thick fibrous coating -  to help them invade neighbouring healthy tissue. The new project aims to identify ways to block the chemical messages passed between cancer cells and stellate cells and identify new treatment avenues.

Dr Stéphanie Kermorgant,  Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London
A molecule known as c-Met is believed to help trigger pancreatic cancer to spread, but current drugs designed to ‘switch off’ c-Met may well cause resistance, as experienced with similar types of drugs. However, Dr Kermorgant and her team recently discovered evidence which shed new light on how c-Met functions, and they will use this information to test out different drug compounds which could prevent the molecule from working.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund is the only UK charity that focuses exclusively on funding research into the disease.

PCRF’s founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks, said:  “With 10 years of research behind us, we’re now able to fund projects that are closer to delivering new treatments to patients. This reflects a genuine and growing belief within the pancreatic cancer research community that progress is gaining momentum and that we’ll see a significant improvement in the survival rate within the next few years. Our supporters should feel very proud to know that their hard work is directly enabling this to happen.”

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