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PCRF-funded research leads to new clinical trial

27 May 2016

Research originally funded by PCRF has underpinned a clinical trial led by Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

The STARPAC clinical trial is assessing whether using high doses of a form of vitamin A could help make chemotherapy more successful in treating pancreatic cancer, and the researchers are currently recruiting participants.

Lead researcher, Professor Hemant Kocher, has received two project grants from Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund to investigate the relationship between pancreatic cancer cells and the cells that surround them, called ‘stromal cells’. Prof Hemant Kocher, QMUL

Stromal cells make up 80% of pancreatic cancer tissue, and the PCRF-funded studies confirmed ways in which the cells communicate with each other to help the cancer cells grow and spread.

Professor Kocher believes these cells could be targeted by drugs to block the messages between the cells and disrupt the cancer’s progression.  

In new experiments on cell cultures and mice, his team tested a whether simultaneously targeting the cancer cells with gemcitabine and the surrounding stromal cells with a form of vitamin A would have any effect.  

The results showed a reduction in cancer cell growth and spread so promising that the team has now secured funding from the Medical Research Council and support from Celgene Sarl Inc to trial this approach for the first time in patients.

“Pancreatic cancer is extremely hard to treat by chemotherapy, so this finding is important because vitamin A targets the non-cancerous tissue and makes the existing chemotherapy more effective, killing the cancer cells and shrinking tumours,” says Prof Kocher. 

QMUL PhD student Elisabete Carapuça adds: “I am excited that our hard work in the laboratory is now being tested in the form of a clinical trial. We hope that it will benefit patients facing this awful disease.”

PCRF’s CEO Maggie Blanks says: “It’s always wonderful when we can let our supporters know that research they’ve funded has led to a potential new treatment. And it’s particularly exciting for us when a project we fund goes on to develop something that reaches a clinical trial. We’ll be extremely interested to hear the results.”

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