BCI’s Dr Angus Cameron, Centre for Tumour Biology, is to receive joint funding from Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) to support vital research on pancreatic cancer. The charities have awarded equal sums totalling £235,000 to support the work of Dr Cameron and his laboratory group.
Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in approximately 9,900 individuals annually in the UK and, although this disease accounts for only 3% of the total cancer cases diagnosed each year in the UK, the prognosis is dismal- with less than 1% of patients surviving for 10 years or more.
Dr Cameron said:
Outcomes in pancreatic cancer patients haven’t really improved over the last few decades, and currently patients who can receive chemotherapy tend to see an increase in survival by a few months at best. Therefore we require a paradigm shift in the way that we treat pancreatic tumours.
One area of focus for the identification of new treatments is the stroma- the structural and connective tissue that surrounds tumours. One of the cell types that makes up the stroma, known as fibroblasts, can become highly activated in cancer, leading to the build-up of excess connective tissue. This process, called fibrosis, results in the development of fibrotic tumours.
The fibrotic environment acts as a barrier around the tumour, limiting the access of immune cells that would otherwise attack the cancer cells. This immunosuppressive feature may explain why immunotherapeutic drugs- treatments that utilise the body’s immune system to target and destroy cancer cells- have demonstrated limited success in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Fibrotic tumours also have very few blood vessels, making it difficult for drugs to infiltrate into the tumour. Therefore, it is hoped that targeting the stroma as well as the tumour itself will improve the clinical outcome for patients.
Currently, few effective targets have been identified in the stroma. Therefore, Dr Cameron and his team aim to define a new drug target in the stroma that will improve the treatment of pancreatic tumours.
Dr Cameron’s research group, including Ms Elizabeth Murray (pictured right), have previously identified a pathway in fibroblast cells that can be blocked to prevent their activation. The team now endeavour to target this pathway in a pre-clinical model of pancreatic cancer to determine the effects on tumour development and sensitivity of the tumour to chemotherapy. The team hope that targeting this pathway will encourage the infiltration of immune cells into the tumour, boosting the effects of immunotherapeutic drugs.
Maggie Blanks, PCRF’s founder and CEO said:
We’re determined to fund as much research as we can to drive progress in tackling pancreatic cancer and Dr Cameron’s innovative research has the potential to make a real difference to patient survival. This is the first time PCRF has co-funded a project and we’re very happy that it allows both charities to make their supporters’ donations go further.
Dr Helen Rippon, Chief Executive of Worldwide Cancer Research, said:
Worldwide Cancer Research funds research into any cancer, anywhere in the world. The fantastic partnership we have formed with Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund means that vital progress can be made on a cancer that has such a poor outlook for patients.
I would like to give sincere thanks to Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund and to our generous supporters – without their dedication and support, the pioneering projects we fund simply would not happen.