Early diagnosis challenge award

Through our Early Diagnosis Challenge Award we fund projects from outstanding scientists in the UK who will test innovative ways of diagnosing pancreatic cancer.  We encourage applications for projects that could, for example:

The Early Diagnosis Challenge Award is offered annually.  The most promising projects are selected for funding after a rigorous review and selection process.

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2017 Projects

Project Title: The role of the immune system in pancreatic cancer

Lead researcher: Mieke Van Hemelrijck

Host Institution: King’s College London

Duration: 12 Months

We aim to examine whether serum biomarkers of the adaptive immune system as well as chronic inflammation are associated with pancreatic cancer in a prospective analysis using single and multiple measurements. This is hypothesis-generating population-based research using one of the largest databases in the world. A better understanding of immune response profiles in the context of pancreatic cancer can help to disentangle possible underlying mechanisms, which can then lead to experimental studies to further study pancreatic cancer development. These studies aim to increase our understanding of different steps in pancreatic carcinogenesis, which will provide new opportunities for prevention and ways to detect the disease early.


Project Title: Tracking clonal evolution in pancreatic cancer using sequential non-invasive liquid biopsies

Lead researcher: Prof. Claude Chelala

Host Institution: Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London

Duration: 12 Months

Primary solid tumours are known to shed DNA into the bloodstream, typically in proportion to aggressiveness and size.  This project plans to use tumour tissues and serial blood samples from patients with pancreatic cancer in combination with their clinical data, to derive a set of ‘at-risk’ genetic biomarkers that will allow clinicians to detect cancers earlier when resectional surgery can significantly improve survival rates.   Blood-derived biomarkers are far less invasive than tissue biopsies, and so offer a better way of patient monitoring.  Our work will therefore also allow us to identify genetic markers that could predict chemotherapy treatment response in others, as well as identify genetic variants associated with disease recurrence in advance of traditional imaging methods.


Project Title:  PANSPEC: Developing Rapid Serum Spectroscopy for Early

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

Lead researcher: Dr Matthew James Baker

Host Institution: University of Strathclyde

Duration: 12 Months

The overall aim of this project is to define a discriminatory blood signature capable of distinguishing pancreatic cancer, non-malignant disease and normal patients with high sensitivity and specificity. Following clinical evaluation this test can be applied where patients present to primary care with non-specific symptoms, and in patients with high risk of pancreatic cancer thereby identifying individuals earlier who should be referred for immediate further diagnostic imaging and early intervention with curative intent.

Such an approach would provide a significant positive impact on the lives of pancreatic cancer patients reducing the 50% of cases detected as emergency presentations which subsequently impacts pancreatic cancer survival rates and as such would reduce mortality and morbidity and increase quality of life.

2016 projects

BraconiLead researcher: Dr Chiara Braconi

Host Institution: Institute of Cancer Research/Royal Marsden Hospital, Sutton

Project Title: Ultraconserved Genes in Pancreatic Cancer

The aim of this project is to find out if selected genes are specifically deregulated in pancreatic cancer and if they can be detected in the tissue and blood of patients at risk.

The project will investigate the deregulation of certain genes in pancreatic cancer – deregulation that has been seen in the early stages of other cancers but not yet investigated for pancreatic cancer. This will determine if they have the potential to lead to a new test for early diagnosis.


Lead ResDrEithneCostello19earcher: Dr Eithne Costello

Host Institution: University of Liverpool

Project Title: Sample Collection from Individuals with New-Onset Diabetes and validation of blood-borne biomarkers to enable earlier detection of pancreatic cancer in this high risk group.

The aim of this project is to establish the UK’s first collection of blood samples from individuals with new-onset diabetes. This new collection will be used to evaluate biomarkers to find out if they can be used to discriminate between diabetes associated with pancreatic cancer and common type 2 diabetes mellitus.


Lead Researcher: Dr John Timms

Host Institution: University College London

Project Title: A Novel Approach to the early detection of Pancreatic Cancer

This project aims to develop a bio-marker model using a new mathematical approach. The mathematical modelling will combine measurements of cancer- associated proteins in blood samples taken from patients prior to diagnosis. The aim is that the resulting models will help in detecting pancreatic cancer in patients who are assessed to be high risk and/or present early symptoms.

“Receiving the award from Pancreatic Cancer Action is fantastic news. The funding will allow us to build and test novel biomarker models as blood tests for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. We are using a completely novel approach to combining candidate biomarker data from a unique set of blood samples taken prior to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We hope to translate the findings of this exciting work into a rapid diagnostic pathway for pancreatic cancer.” Dr John Timms, UCL.


TCJLead researcher: Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic

Host Institution: Barts Cancer Institute London

Project Title: Metals as Early Biomarkers for Pancreatic Cancer

This project aims to determine if a metal test in urine can be used as an early diagnostic tool for pancreatic cancer. The research will examine whether trace metals such as zinc and copper, which are essential for life, are different in patients with pancreatic cancer compared to healthy people.

“In collaboration with Dr Fiona Larner and Prof Alex Halliday from Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, we are for the first time going to examine the composition of several trace elements in urine samples of pancreatic cancer patients. We are grateful to Pancreatic Cancer Action for making this exciting work possible!” Dr Tatjana Crnogorac-Jurcevic