Project title: Reducing pancreatic cancer metastasis by targeting the endothelial cell niche.
Project aims: Most cancer research targets the cancer cells themselves, but Professor Hodivala-Dilke is using a different approach, targeting cells that line the blood vessels which supply the tumour.
She has found that a mutation in a gene called focal adhesion kinase (FAK) within these cells can help chemotherapy to work better and reduce the likelihood of cancer spreading. This could be particularly important for pancreatic cancer patients who have been diagnosed early enough for surgery to be an option, before the cancer has already spread to other organs such as the liver. While surgery prior to chemotherapy can greatly enhance patients’ chance of survival, for around 70 percent the cancer develops resistance to the chemotherapy and returns, often in the liver.
Professor Hodivala-Dilke plans to see whether removing the FAK gene in the cells that specifically line the blood vessels can particularly impact the spread of pancreatic cancer. If this research can provide evidence that the cells lining blood vessels can help control pancreatic cancer growing in distant sites it could provide a strategy to help improve patient survival.