Innovative research looking for new ways to treat pancreatic cancer underway

31st March 2023

Pioneering research into a new game-changing treatment for those affected by pancreatic cancer has begun this month, giving hope to patients. University of Glasgow scientist Professor Seth Coffelt is leading the project, funded by Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK, which aims to help make desperately needed new immunotherapy treatments a reality for future patients.

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have barely improved in 50 years, with fewer than 8% of patients in the UK surviving five years after their diagnosis. Currently, the only potential curative treatment of the disease is surgery, but just one in ten patients receive the operation. Tragically, the majority of patients are not diagnosed until after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, meaning it is no longer possible to save their lives.

Discovery research is vital to better understand this devastating disease 

Immunotherapy treatments, which boost the immune system’s ability to recognise and destroy cancer cells, have proven a revelation for some types of cancers, such as leukaemia, but have so far been ineffective at treating pancreatic cancer. Professor Seth Coffelt and his team in Glasgow have previously studied how some immune cells, called gamma delta T cells, play a role in driving the progression of pancreatic tumours. It is thought that they do this by controlling the activity of other types of immune cells, to produce the ideal environment for the tumour to grow and spread to other parts of the body.

Using cutting-edge techniques, Professor Coffelt and his team now aim to learn more about how the immune system functions as pancreatic cancer spreads, so that they can try to identify new ways to target pancreatic cancer and offer hope to those who have been diagnosed.

Claire's story

Claire lost both her stepdad, Billy, and her ex-husband, Stephen, from pancreatic cancer. Tragically, each died within a year of diagnosis, and now Claire is determined to raise awareness of the need for more research.

Claire’s dad died when she was young, so Billy, a local butcher and fitness fanatic, was the only father she had ever known. He was working and going to the gym regularly despite being in his late seventies. So, when during a phone call to home while on holiday she leant that Billy had been in hospital with pain and jaundice, it came as a real shock.  

Claire said: “When we came home my mum said, on your way past, can you drop in? It was one of those things that I, definitely, definitely wasn't prepared for. I went in, and Billy said that it was cancer and I genuinely felt like someone had hit me in the chest. I remember just sort of dropping onto the chair backwards and not really taking it in, because Billy was the last person I ever expected it from.”

Doctors discussed surgery to remove the tumour, but first Billy had to have chemotherapy. As fit as he was, at 78 Billy struggled to tolerate the harsh treatment. Sadly, he died on 3rd September 2015.

Claire McEwan Claire McEwan
This new research project gives me massive hope. It would be nice to think that that there is a cure on the horizon. I know that they've made so many advances in other types of cancer and I would just love to see the advances made in pancreatic cancer because from what I've seen of it, it's such an aggressive and indiscriminate cancer.

Working together to find new cures

Research into pancreatic cancer has been underfunded for decades, receiving only 3% of the UK cancer research budget. Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer UK have come together to address this by jointly investing more than £240,000 in funding this new project, which will run at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Glasgow for the next three years.

By working together with Pancreatic Cancer UK, we can make your support go further. Thanks to donations from our amazing Curestarters we are able to fund researchers like Professor Seth Coffelt around the world to look for new cancer cures. 

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