Histamine is a natural compound released by special immune cells in our bodies in response to germs or bacteria that could cause disease. Professor McCormick will investigate the role of histamine in helping pancreatic cancer to grow. He will also investigate whether antihistamine drugs, such as those that treat hay fever, could be repurposed as a new treatment for pancreatic cancer.
‘Oncolytic viruses’ are viruses that are engineered to infect and kill cancer cells and have the potential to treat many different cancers, including pancreatic. Professor Parker will use the latest specialised methods to test a new oncolytic virus his team has engineered to specifically infect pancreatic cancer cells. The infected cells are forced to produce anti-cancer medicines, attracting immune cells, and instructing them to recognise and destroy other cancer cells in the body.
Our immune system is primed to attack cancer cells as soon as they are detected. Dr Litchfield aims to develop a blood test which measures three different aspects of our body’s immune response to early stage pancreatic cancer. He believes this new approach could produce results that are more accurate and sensitive than other early detection tests currently being developed.
Pancreatic cancer often spreads to the liver and can take hold more easily because the immune system does not detect and kill the cancer cells. Professor Schmid has identified a protein that is found at unusually high levels in liver tumours of pancreatic cancer patients. In animal tests, blocking this protein slowed the pace of the tumour’s growth in the liver, so Prof Schmid aims to identify the best way to suppress this protein in pancreatic cancer patients to improve survival
Dr Ishihara has developed a unique new drug compound that can be used alongside immunotherapy drugs to target pancreatic cancer, activating specific immune cells called T-cells within the tumour. Tests on mice show that the new drug allows the immunotherapy to be more successful, and with fewer side effects. He believes the drug has potential to be personalised to individual patients’ tumours. This grant will allow him to develop this potential new treatment further.
Dr Biffi’s research targets non-cancerous cells that make up to 90% of each pancreatic cancer tumour. Some of these cells, called fibroblasts, help the cancer to grow and be resistant to chemotherapy. Dr Biffi’s new project will try and determine the different ways that various groups of fibroblasts contribute to the growth of pancreatic cancer. She will also look for ways to block them, and to make other therapies more effective.
Professor Carroll has developed a new technique that allows him to ‘map’ protein interactions within a cancer tumour and identify possible proteins that could be a target for new treatments. He plans to apply this technique to pancreatic cancer tumours and use the resulting map to identify potential drug targets among the proteins. He’s particularly interested in mapping proteins called ‘transcription factors’ which switch genes on.
Professor Hemant Kocher is investigating the thick scar-like tissue that surrounds pancreatic tumours, called the stroma, which prevents chemotherapy from reaching the tumour inside. The stroma is formed by specialised cells called pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs). He has identified a way to potentially allow chemotherapy to be more effective with pancreatic cancer, and this will involve a deeper understanding of the cells that help to form the stroma.
Professor Marshall’s previous PRCF-funded research showed that the molecule alpha-v beta-6 (αvβ6), which is abundant in around 80% of pancreatic cancers, drives the spread of the cancer to other organs. This new project will examine how αvβ6 causes the cancer to spread and will test two different types of drugs that he has been developing to stop αvβ6 working, and determine when and how best they could potentially be used for patients.
Professor Seymour’s project aims to develop a virus that will specifically infect and break down pancreatic cancer cells and activate the immune system to help kill the cancer. Immunotherapy has made slow progress to date in pancreatic cancer, but Prof Seymour’s approach unusually targets both the tumour itself and the thick protective coating (the stroma) which surrounds the tumour. He hopes that this potential treatment could ultimately be delivered intravenously, which would benefit patients whose cancer has already spread to lymph nodes and other organs beyond the pancreas.