UK scientists find way to ‘eliminate pancreatic cancer cells’ in just one week

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pancreatic-cancer Doug Fearon Cambridge University
Left: pancreatic cancer cells (in green) Right: after six days of combined tumour immunotherapy, the cancerous cells had been killed. Credit: Doug Fearon

Researchers at Cambridge University believe they have found a possible way to treat pancreatic cancer by using the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

The scientists identified how the ‘wall’ around the tumour functions and, by using a drug in combination with an antibody to break down that protective barrier allowing cancer-attacking T-cells to get through to the tumour.

The findings, published in the journal PNAS  1 showed that initial tests in mice using the combined treatment saw a complete elimination of cancer cells in just one week.

Immunotherapy which works by stimulating the body’s immune system to attach cancer cells has shown promise in many cancers but so far, pancreatic cancer has not responded in the same way which may be due to the fact that pancreatic cancer forms a protective barrier around itself.

This research, led by Professor Douglas Fearon found that this protective barrier is created by a protein called CXCL12 that is produced by a specialised kind of connective tissue cell known as a carcinoma-associated fibroblast (or CAF). CXCL12 proteins coat the cancer cells forming a ‘protective shield’ that keeps the T-cells away. Using the drug AMD3100 known as Plerixafor (which enables T-cells to reach the cancer cells)  along with anti-PD-L1, an immunotheraputic antibody (which enhanced the activiationof the T-cells) the scientists found that the number of cancer cells and the volume of tumour were greatly reduced. Amazingly they found that following combined treatment for one week, the residual tumour was composed only of premalignant cells and inflammatory cells.

While this work is of great interest, this now needs to be tested in humans. Clinical trials in humans are expected to begin soon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.


  1.  Feig et al 2013Targeting CXCL12 from FAP-expressing carcinoma associated fibroblasts synergizes with anti–PD-L1immunotherapy in pancreatic cancer. PNAS vol 110 No.50 20212-20217  

16 comments

  1. Dear Sirs/Madam . I have been having treatment (chemo and radiotherapy) since July last year for advanced pancreatic cancer. It was 4.8cms when last measured in October. I would really like to be considered for the trials at the Adamsbrook hospital and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

    Yours faithfully

    M D Sierens

  2. Dear Sirs/Madam .

    I have been having treatment (chemo and radiotherapy) since July last year for advanced pancreatic cancer. It was 4.8cms when last measured in October. I would really like to be considered for the trials at the Addemsbrook Hospital and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

    Yours faithfully
    M D Sierens
    Mobile # 07973244244

    1. Hi Richard,

      Thanks for contacting us. The clinical trial in humans for the AMD3100 drug has not yet started.

      I’d recommending talking to your own oncologist about the clinical trials that you would be eligible for in the meantime – take a look at our web page on clinical trials where there are links to databases of currently open clinical trials in the UK http://pancreaticcanceraction.org/pancreatic-cancer/treatment/pancreatic-cancer-clinical-trials/

      We wish you all the best.

      Natasha

  3. Dear sir/madam,
    my close relative who is in India has been diagnosed to have carcinoma of the pancreas two weeks ago and has been started on chemotherapy. i would like to know if he could be considered for the clinical trial while being in India or does he need to go to UK for the same.Looking forward to hearing from you as soon as possible
    yours faithfully
    vkamath

    1. Dear Kamath,
      The clinical trial in humans for the AMD3100 drug has not yet started. It would be best to talk to your own oncologist about the clinical trials that you would be eligible for in the meantime – take a look at our web page on clinical trials where there are links to databases of currently open clinical trials in the UK http://pancreaticcanceraction.org/pancreatic-cancer/treatment/pancreatic-cancer-clinical-trials/
      If you are in India, you will need to talk to your medical team there to see what clinical trials are operating in your country.
      We wish you all the best.

      1. Dear Sirs/Madam .

        I have been having treatment (chemo and radiotherapy) since July last year for advanced pancreatic cancer. It was 2.5cms when last measured in May. I would really like to be considered for the trials at the Addemsbrook Hospital and look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

        Yours faithfully

        1. We have not heard when clinical trials for this will start. If and when we do, we will post this information on our website and via our social media channels. We wish you all the best.

  4. Dear Sirs/Madam,
    I write for my sister in law, she has been having treatment since November last year for advanced pancreatic cancer and she would really like to be considered for the trials at the Addemsbrook Hospital.
    I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

    Regards,
    Erna Price

  5. Hello. My close uncle was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I’m wondering when this new solution will begin trials?
    Thank you
    -Roger

    1. Hello Roger,
      Unfortunately we don’t have that information currently. When we do hear something, we’ll post it on this website.

  6. Can my mum be considered for this? She just had Whipple but a spot on liver so just bypass done. She is meant to start chemo in a few weeks?
    Many thanks
    Lynne

  7. Good Morning.

    On 22 Jan 16, my mother was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. Further testing has since found that the cancer has not spread throughout her body and is currently isolated to her Pancreas only at this time. It seems to have been found early.

    The tumor is 3.5 cm and is located at the head of the Pancreas. Surgery looks to be extremely difficult.

    I am aware that the tumor microenvironment is immune suppressive because cancer cells elicit responses characteristic of wound healing and tissue regeneration. I also understand that Professor Fearon’s laboratory at the University of Cambridge studies the interaction between cancer and the immune system and that the Feaon group are currently trialing AMD3100, a drug which interrupts the immmune suppression.

    I believe that Professor Fearon intends to conduct clinical trials in humans utilising AMD3100 at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge..

    My Mother is very interested in volunteering as a candidate for this trial. We are happy to travel to any location required.

    Are you able to assist us in getting involved in this wonderful trial? Any help you could provide us in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    We understand that it is just a trial at this stage, however if there is a chance it can work then we would love to help to make this drug commercially available.

    There is always hope!

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