Pancreatic Cancer UK funds new Oxford researcher in the fight against pancreatic cancer

National charity Pancreatic Cancer UK has today announced the award of £100,000 to a research team based at the University of Oxford. The grant will allow the addition of a new member to the team as part of the charity’s pioneering Future Leaders Fund, amounting to over £500,000 in similar grants across the UK. This award will support a student through a DPhil project which will be supervised by Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill.

In the project, the new researcher will investigate how the body’s own immune system, which normally fights infections, could be leading to treatment failures and poor survival rates in pancreatic cancer. The mixture of cells and proteins that surround pancreatic cancer cells, otherwise known as the tumour stroma, is particularly dense compared to other cancers and can make up to 90 per cent of the tumour mass. The stroma can become infiltrated with a specific type of immune cell which is thought to prevent chemotherapy from working properly.

This research aims to discover how and why this happens, with the hope that the findings will lead to treatments for the future that target the immune cells and therefore improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre members Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill comment; “We are thrilled that Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Leaders Fund award has allowed us to bring in a bright young student to work alongside us on our investigations into the interactions between our immune system and pancreatic cancer. We are hoping that this research will help us to gain a better understanding of the reasons that so many tumours are resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in order for us to start developing strategies to improve the efficacy of current treatments.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Future Leaders Fund aims to attract new research talent and retain that expertise within the field, by supporting the research leaders of the future with both clinical and non-clinical research.

Today’s announcement coincides with Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout November, the charity is urging people to find out more about pancreatic cancer, which has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer UK believes its ongoing support of pioneering, individual research grants will make a significant difference in a disease area where survival rates have remained the same for the last 40 years. Pancreatic cancer kills one person in the UK every hour and is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths, yet receives only 1.4% of the total cancer research spend in the UK.

The Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre sees pancreatic cancer as a critical area of focus. Both Dr Emmanouil Fokas and Professor Eric O’Neill are members of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Pancreatic Working Group, whose first meeting was held on World Pancreatic Cancer Day. This working group brings together 30 researchers and clinicians from multiple groups within the Oxford Centre network. The working group members come from a range of disciplines and by coming together they are able to further apply their world-leading science to areas of work that will have significant impact for patients.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “As a charity that represents people with pancreatic cancer and their families, we have a responsibility to tackle the huge issue of under-funding into pancreatic cancer research as well as stimulating interest among the research community.

“We are delighted to be announcing this research at the University of Oxford as part of our latest round of grants under our Future Leaders Fund. We feel confident that the projects we have chosen to fund have the potential to make an important contribution to the fight against this disease. It is very exciting to be pairing up some of the most experienced researchers in the field and working together to begin to develop the leaders of the future in the fight against this terrible disease. We are looking forward to hearing of their findings as they work together with the aim of helping thousands of people with pancreatic cancer live for longer.”

To find out more about the Pancreatic Working Group at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre please contact cancercentre@oncology.ox.ac.uk