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Another £1M for research projects sees PCRF research spend hit £8M!

4 February 2016

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) is funding six new research projects with a total of £1 million - bringing the charity’s support for research into the UK’s most lethal cancer to over £8 million.

This is the third year that PCRF has invested £1 million in a single funding round. In total, the charity has funded 40 cutting edge research projects across the UK and Ireland, worth over £6 million.

These new grants are in addition to the £2 million committed to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank, which launched in January 2016 and will accelerate research progress. The Tissue Bank is the world’s first nationally co-ordinated pancreas tissue bank and has already been hailed as “one of the most important developments in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation” (1)

Says PCRF’s founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks: “In the charity’s early years, we had to focus on basic research to help understand pancreatic cancer and its mechanisms, with the knowledge that this would be a springboard for future research progress. More recently – typified by this year’s grants – we’ve been able to focus on projects that are closer to patients. These include innovative ways of making current treatments much more effective, developing ‘personalised medicine’ approaches and finding ways to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages. 

“We’re committed to beating this disease and thanks to our loyal supporters whose fundraising enables us to fund all these projects and initiatives, we’re making real progress towards this goal.”

The six newly-funded projects are:

Dr Bart Cornelissen, University of Oxford
Dr Cornelissen aims to use powerful imaging techniques to diagnose early stage pancreatic cancer. His team has already developed an imaging agent that attaches to a protein known as claudin-4 which is expressed in the early stages of the disease. This project will develop the agent so that this protein can be rapidly detected and monitored using PET scanners, which are increasingly common in hospitals. 

Dr Patricia Sancho, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Sancho will focus on cancer stem cells, which live within tumours and drive the return and spread of cancer cells, even after aggressive chemotherapy.  Cancer stem cells can be killed using drugs that cut off their primary energy supply, but they can develop resistance and continue growing over time by switching to an alternative energy source. Dr Sancho will investigate more powerful drugs or combined treatments to attack the two main energy sources at the same time and eliminate the cancer stem cells for good.

Dr Fieke Froeling, Imperial College London
Dr Froeling‘s project will focus on ‘epigenetics’ - changes in DNA that can switch genes on and off and lead to cancer without altering the genetic code itself. Dr Froeling and her team will profile different pancreatic tumours and cell lines to look for biomarkers that will enable them to predict which patients will respond best to the different drugs being developed to combat different epigenetic changes. This will allow individual patients to be matched with the most effective treatment for their type of tumour.

Dr Eithne Costello, University of Liverpool
Dr Costello and her colleagues aim to unravel how pancreatic tumour cells use the protein Nrf2 to protect themselves against chemotherapeutic drugs. Pancreatic cancer cells have high levels of this protein, and respond to chemotherapy by producing even more - effectively becoming resistant to treatment.  The team aims to find ways to block Nrf2 that will enable the cancer drugs to work more effectively as treatments. 

Dr Claus Jorgensen, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, University of Manchester
Pancreatic tumours have a thick protective coating called the stroma, which contains certain types of cells hijacked from neighbouring tissues that have been forced to help the tumour survive and grow. Dr Jorgensen has discovered that blocking a particular enzyme in these hijacked cells returns them to their normal state. This project will investigate how this happens and whether interfering with this enzyme will make the tumour cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

Professor Venkat Kanamarlapudi, Swansea University
Professor Kanamarlapudi’s team has developed a drug compound that attaches to a protein expressed only on the surface of pancreatic cancer cells, causing them to burst open and die. In addition, working on the cell’s surface means that cancer cells won’t develop resistance to the drug. This project will both test how the compound works on human tissue samples, and will investigate combining it with existing drugs to maximise its effectiveness.  

Recent projects – all supported by Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund - have made significant advances. These include:

  • a project by Dr Tanja Crnogorac-Jurcevic at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London,  found three biomarkers which together could form the basis of a simple and inexpensive urine test for early stage pancreatic cancer
  • PCRF funding progressed a project at University College London by Professor Stephen Neidle to  develop a new drug compound which was able to shrink pancreatic tumours by up to 80 per cent in mice
  • Delegates  at PCRF’s 2015 supporters conference heard Prof John Marshall report that progress made following a PRCF- funded project at Barts Cancer Institute is leading to clinical trials.  
  • Exciting PCRF-funded virotherapy research by Dr Yaohe Wang at Barts Cancer Institute is now being refined for clinical trials.

References:
 (1) Quote from Professor Nick Lemoine, Director, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London.

 

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