A new tool to track cancer and unlock its secrets

28th November 2022

Our researchers in London have made a new discovery that could be an important first step towards new cancer cures. Their breakthrough reveals new insights into how pancreatic cancer spreads, using a cutting-edge ‘chemical probe’ that can track specific molecules in cancer cells.

New discoveries lead to new cures

To find new ways to tackle cancer, including how to better prevent, diagnose, and treat it, we need to uncover the secrets of how cancer works. How does cancer start? How does it spread? What exactly is happening in the body to cause that?

For our researchers, this often means focusing their efforts on a specific feature of the biology of cancer, such as a single type of protein and how it is involved in cancer. That’s just what Professor Edward Tate, whose research you helped fund, focused on when he and his team (pictured) made this important discovery about how cancer spreads.

A ‘chemical probe’

Professor Tate is a Chemical Biologist at Imperial College London, so he’s an expert in the complex chemical reactions that happen in the human body. His search for new knowledge had already revealed that a specific protein called KLK6 is involved somehow in pancreatic cancer, but he wanted to know exactly what this protein was doing – he’d need to track it!

This pioneering researcher and his team have now taken an important step forward in this journey. Professor Tate’s innovative work to track KLK6 has resulted in a brand new tool, a ‘chemical probe’, that lets the researchers specifically track the protein in models of cancer to see what it is doing.

The probe proved that they were right to study KLK6. They tracked this protein in pancreatic cancer cells, and discovered that it is involved in cell migration, or how cells move around the body – that means it could be important for how cancer cells spread to other organs (metastasis).

Dr Daniel Lucy, Worldwide Cancer Research scientist who worked on this project
Cancer is a complex problem that involves lots of different processes in the body. We need to understand those processes, and how things look different in cancer cells, to find effective new ways to tackle it. For that reason, it’s vital that we keep supporting discovery cancer research.

How could this discovery help cancer patients?

Professor Tate believes similar probes to track other important proteins like KLK6 could one day be used to diagnose cancer in patients.

It could even help make surgery to remove tumours more successful, if the tumour has high levels of a protein that can be tracked with the probe – they could use it to clearly see the boundary where healthy cells are replaced by cancer cells.


This would not have been possible without the generous support of you, our Curestarters.

Edward Tate Professor Edward Tate, Worldwide Cancer Research scientist
We would like to thank all the Curestarters for supporting this work which brings us a step forward in understanding cancer mechanisms and finding new ways to overcome them.

What’s next?

In the near future, Professor Tate hopes to uncover more secrets about cancer by creating other probes to track what proteins like KLK6 are doing. He plans to use this discovery to create a wide range of tools to study different types of cancer. He also plans to share his findings with other researchers, so they can build on his discovery about KLK6.

This is an important first step in the research journey. Achieving the next step, and the one after that, often means sharing that new knowledge with others. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, a new discovery about cancer can be built upon over time and result in something great.


Click here to read the full report on Professor Tate's breakthrough

Thanks to our Curestarters, we were able to fund Professor Tate’s work and help him to take that first step. However, many more ideas for new cancer cures go unexplored.

By supporting Worldwide Cancer Research, you are supporting cutting-edge discovery research like this that could unlock the secrets of cancer.

Become a Curestarter today and join us in supporting pioneering cancer researchers like Professor Tate and his team.


Join our monthly newsletter

Keep up to date with all our latest news, events, groundbreaking research discoveries and much more!

You're now a Curestarter!

Our newsletter usually drops towards the end of each month

Thanks for subscribing