Pancreatic cancer cell image taken using a Scanning Electron Microscope. Credit: LRI EM Unit
A Cardiff scientist has received £373k from Cancer Research UK to find new ways to diagnose pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage.
Each year in Wales around 520 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer* and around 70% of these cases are diagnosed at the latest stage.**
Dr Catherine Hogan at Cardiff University’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute has been awarded the funding by Cancer Research UK’s Early Detection Committee to understand how pancreatic cancer cells develop, with the aim of developing diagnostic tools for the future.
Dr Hogan said: “Although survival for many types of cancer has improved, pancreatic cancer survival has lagged considerably behind in the last 40 years.
“For patients with pancreatic cancer the outlook is very poor. Unfortunately, the disease spreads very quickly and is usually diagnosed at a late stage when treatment options are limited.
“I hope my research will give a better insight into the early stages of the disease and from that we’ll be able to develop new and improved diagnostic tools. For example, we could identify a secreted protein that could be used to spot pancreatic cancer.”
Ninety percent of pancreatic cancers carry mutations in a gene called KRAS.
Dr Hogan’s research has shown that cells with the mutated KRAS gene are often eliminated due to protective mechanisms that keep the tissue healthy.
She said: “This funding from Cancer Research UK will allow us to build on our current work and investigate whether having more mutations in KRAS mutated cells enables them to avoid the protective mechanisms in the pancreas and initiate cancer development.”
The team aims to understand the behaviours of pancreatic cancer cells at the very early stages of cancer development, in order to identify biological signs that could be used for early detection.
“Through this work, we aim to understand fundamental biological events that lead to early stages of pancreatic cancer.
“If we can understand this, we believe this could lead to early detection tests for the future, ultimately transforming the way we diagnose pancreatic cancer,” added Dr Hogan.
The funding announcement coincides with the launch of Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign, which aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on people’s lives.
Thanks to research, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.
Ruth Amies, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Wales, said: “This award is fantastic recognition of the world leading research taking place in Wales, which will help shape a better future for people with cancer.
“People in Cardiff have every right to feel proud of the ground-breaking research being carried out on their doorstep and of their fundraising efforts, which are helping to beat the disease.”
She continued: “Every hour, two people are diagnosed with cancer in Wales***. That’s why we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone.
“We hope our ‘Right Now’ campaign will inspire more people to take action, whether it’s joining a Race for Life event, volunteering in our shops or making a donation. Together, we will beat cancer.”
*Based on the average annual number of new cases of pancreatic cancer (ICD10 C25) diagnosed in Wales between 2014 and 2016.
** Latest stage refers to stage 4. Based on cancer cases with known stage at diagnosis in Wales, 2012-2016. Source: Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit.
*** Based on the average annual number of new cases of cancer (ICD10 C00-C97 excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) diagnosed in Wales between 2013-2015.