Pioneering research into a new game-changing treatment for those affected by pancreatic cancer has begun, giving hope to patients. University of Glasgow scientist Dr Seth Coffelt, from the University’s School of Cancer Sciences, is leading the project, funded by Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK, which aims to help make desperately needed new immunotherapy treatments a reality for future patients.
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have barely improved in 50 years, with fewer than 6% of patients in Scotland surviving five years after their diagnosis. Currently, the only potential curative treatment of the disease is surgery, but just one in ten patients receive the operation. Tragically, the majority of patients are not diagnosed until after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, meaning it is no longer possible to save their lives. Charities like Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK are funding research to change this outcome for those diagnosed.
Immunotherapy treatments, which boost the immune system’s ability to recognise and destroy cancer cells, have proven a revelation for some types of cancers, such as leukaemia, but have so far been ineffective at treating pancreatic cancer. Dr Coffelt and his team have previously studied how some immune cells, called gamma delta T cells, play a role in driving the progression of pancreatic tumours. It is thought that they do this by controlling the activity of other types of immune cells, to produce the ideal environment for the tumour to grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Current immunotherapies available in clinics are often not working for patients with pancreatic cancer, which is the deadliest common cancer. Using cutting-edge techniques, Dr Coffelt and his team aim to learn more about how the immune system functions as pancreatic cancer spreads, so that they can try to identify new ways to target pancreatic cancer and offer hope to those who have been diagnosed.
Research into pancreatic cancer has been underfunded for decades, receiving only 3% of the UK cancer research budget. Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK have come together to address this by jointly investing more than £240,000 in funding this new project, which will run at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Glasgow for the next three years.
Dr Seth Coffelt, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Cancer Sciences, said: "I am absolutely delighted to receive funding from Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK. This funding will allow us to investigate the role of immune cells in pancreatic cancer progression. Hopefully, our results will someday lead to new immunotherapies for people with pancreatic cancer."
Stephanie Sinclair, Science Communications Manager at Worldwide Cancer Research, said: "I am very excited to see this innovative cancer research project starting here in Scotland, where Worldwide Cancer Research is based. We are delighted to be working with Pancreatic Cancer UK to support this crucial research looking for new cures for pancreatic cancer."
Dr Chris Macdonald, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "Pancreatic cancer is a highly metastatic disease, often spreading throughout the body even before the first symptoms present themselves. Curative surgery is only possible if the disease is still contained in the pancreas, and even for those patients who are not able to have surgery, chemotherapy is much more effective if the cancer has not spread.
"Therefore, understanding why and how pancreatic cancer is able to hide from the immune system and spread around the body could allow us to find new ways to reduce or even prevent this from happening, giving more people the opportunity to survive for longer and spend more precious time with their loved ones."