Charity news

Early Diagnosis Challenge Award winner publishes a development in gene detection

Pancreatic Cancer Action run the Early Diagnosis Challenge Awards and in 2015 seed-funded a research project which yesterday published a breakthrough report in a medical journal which shows it is possible to identify genetic variations within pancreatic cancer patients using a blood test.

Since 2015 Pancreatic Cancer Action has run the Early Diagnosis Challenge Award, where we offer grants to UK-based post-doctoral researchers in the UK worth up to £40,000 per project. Pancreatic cancer research has been underfunded for decades. Despite being the UK’s 5th biggest cancer killer, pancreatic cancer receives less than 3% of the UK cancer research budget.

Data show that charities are the largest public funders of research into pancreatic cancer, with 85% of the total spend on research into pancreatic cancer coming from charities.

We have pumped nearly £300,000 into small proof of concept research projects as part of our Early Diagnosis Challenge Award scheme. Our intention was always to use these projects as a springboard to further and more considerable funding, which we, as a small charity, cannot provide. Our investments have enabled researchers to examine multiple new ways of looking at the disease. We are delighted one of our projects went on to secure further funding and today has published its results.

Researchers from Barts Cancer Institute at the Queen Mary University of London have found it is possible to identify and track genetic variations in the tumours of patients with pancreatic cancer using a simple blood test. The information gained from the blood tests could help to predict the course of disease in individual patients and tailor clinical decisions to each patient’s cancer.

Tumour samples for sequencing are usually collected during surgery (in the small proportion of patients with operable cancer) or via biopsy. However, biopsies are not standard of care in the UK for patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer. They only provide a snapshot of the mutations detected at a given time and location within the tumour.

The preliminary insights within this study highlight the potential of utilising circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) as a minimally invasive tool to determine the genetic profile of the cancer. It makes it possible to monitor the course of a patient’s disease over time, particularly when it isn’t possible to collect tissue samples from these unresectable patients.

The research was published in BMC Cancer, made possible by the seed funding by charity Pancreatic Cancer Action and continued funding from Cancer Research UK.

Ali Stunt, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action, says, “While this is a small study. This proof of concept idea has shown that it is possible to identify genetic changes known to be cancer-associated genes and identify many patient-specific genetic changes which can be tracked over time. In a disease that is hard to treat, it is vital that patients have the ability to have treatments that can be tailored to their individual cancer, which should offer better outcomes. It is exciting that this study could lead to the development of a simple, non-invasive blood test that could have profound clinical implications for disease progress monitoring and predicting a patient’s response to certain treatments. I am very proud that Pancreatic Cancer Action’s strategy of seed funding proof of concept studies has led to the development of this technique.”  

We have a proud history of investing in research focusing on the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Even with a limited budget, research part or fully funded by Pancreatic Cancer Action has been influential in the development of potential biomarkers to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier.