Research projects

A new approach to eradicate pancreatic tumours

Professor Ildiko Szabo
Project period
January 2022 - December 2024
Research Institute
University of Padova
Cancer types
Pancreatic cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Ildiko Szabo and her team are studying a new combination treatment for pancreatic cancer. They aim to fine tune this new treatment, understand more about how it works, and hope to test it in future in clinical trials.

Hope for the future

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer remain stubbornly low, with only 8% of patients surviving 5 years after their diagnosis in the UK. Treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy are often ineffective, and few options are left for patients with pancreatic cancer that has spread. One of the problems is that pancreatic tumours are often surrounded by scar tissue that blocks a lot of treatments from having an effect.

Professor Ildiko Szabo and her team are working to find new treatment options that can penetrate the tumour and target pancreatic cancer cells. They recently tested a new combination of treatments in a small study in mice and found that it almost completely wiped-out pancreatic tumours. They now aim to test this combination further, understand how the treatments work, and fine tune them to target pancreatic tumours better.

Meet the scientist

Professor Ildiko Szabo is a Hungarian scientist who settled down in Northern Italy more than 30 years ago. She works at the 800-year-old University of Padova. Her hobbies include reading, cooking, yoga, watercolour painting and hiking in the Dolomites with her family.

The science

One of the major problems in treating pancreatic cancer is that the tissue in and around the tumour, the tumour microenvironment, is inflamed and has a lot of scar tissue. This supports the tumour’s growth, so any successful treatment will need to be able to penetrate this scar tissue to get access to the tumour. Professor Ildiko Szabo and her team recently developed two new drugs that they believe can overcome some of these challenges when it comes to treating pancreatic cancer.

Recent research by Professor Ildiko’s lab found that combining their new drugs with two others completely eliminated pancreatic tumours in up to 80% of mice that received this drug combination. The researchers believe that this works by destroying mitochondria, the structures in cancer cells that produce energy, which causes the cancer cells to die.

Professor Ildiko and her team now want to study this process in more detail to find out exactly how this combination of drugs is able to kill pancreatic cancer cells. They also want to see if they can make this treatment combination more targeted without needing to increase the dosage by using nanoparticles that can carry the drug to the tumour.

What motivates me each day? Scientific curiosity and the drive to identify a possible cure against poor-prognosis cancers.
Professor Ildiko Szabo

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