Researching the cures


Professor John Marshall

The team is investigating the potential of a molecule called αvβ6 in cancer imaging. The molecule could help surgeons identify metastatic tumours more efficiently and accurately.

Project Title: Development of imaging and therapy
of pancreatic cancer by targeting the integrin αvβ6

Research Aims: To date there are no therapies that have been designed specifically for pancreatic cancer. We have identified a molecule, αvβ6, that is expressed on the surface of the tumour cells in most pancreatic cancers but not on the cells of normal pancreas or, indeed, in other normal tissues. Thus we can use αvβ6 to image pancreatic cancers specifically, so that the tumours that have spread, the so-called metastases, can be detected more efficiently and accurately by surgeons and oncologists; this should help them in their efforts to remove these metastatic tumours or treat them more accurately with directed radiotherapy. In addition, in experiments conducted in the laboratory, we have found that αvβ6 actually permits pancreatic cancer cells to invade. Thus we believe that therapies designed to stop αvβ6 working properly could stop pancreatic cancers developing into a fatal disease.

In this proposal we shall use peptides, that we have developed previously and which attach specifically to αvβ6, to image pancreatic cancers. By attaching radioactivity to the peptide we can follow where the peptide is in the body by using special whole body imaging machines such as PET (Positron Emission Tomography) or SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography). Already we have shown that, just like in pancreatic cancer, the radioactive peptide accumulates in cancers that have αvβ6 on their surface. We will also use antibodies and other molecules designed from our peptides to inhibit the activity of αvβ6 and thus stop pancreatic cancers from growing and invading.

The goal of the study is to show that αvβ6 is a useful target for imaging pancreatic cancers and for directing anti-cancer therapies.