Public Release: 

UK's Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund announces third £1 million funding round

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund


IMAGE: This is Maggie Blanks, founder and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. view more

Credit: Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund

The charity has now funded 40 research projects across the UK and Ireland worth over £6 million and this is the third year it has invested £1 million in a single funding round.

The new grants are in addition to the £2 million committed to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank, which launched in January 2016 with the aim of accelerating research progress. The Tissue Bank is the world's first nationally co-ordinated pancreas tissue bank and has been described as "one of the most important developments in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation." (1)

Says the charity's founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks: "In PCRF's early years, we had to focus on researching how this disease worked on a molecular level, knowing that this would underpin 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."

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 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 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 source, 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 Claus Jorgensen, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, University of Manchester

Pancreatic tumours' thick protective coating, the stroma, contains hijacked 'normal' stellate cells that have been forced to help the tumour survive and grow. Dr Jorgensen has discovered that blocking an enzyme in these hijacked cells returns them to their normal state. This project will investigate how this happens and whether interfering with this enzyme in stellate cells 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.


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

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