Dr Seth Coffelt and his team are studying how pancreatic tumours recruit immune cells to help them grow and spread. They hope that their research will reveal new targets for immunotherapy to treat pancreatic cancer that has spread.
Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have remained stubbornly low for some time, with fewer than 8% of patients surviving 5 years after their diagnosis in the UK. Many patients with the disease die because they are diagnosed only after the cancer has spread. Immunotherapy has proven a revelation in treatments for some cancers, however those currently available do not tend to work well for pancreatic cancer.
Dr Seth Coffelt and his team have been studying how some immune cells, called gamma delta T cells, seem to be helping pancreatic tumours spread to other areas in the body. They now aim to understand exactly how pancreatic tumours are able to recruit these cells. The researchers hope that their research will identify new targets for immunotherapies that can treat pancreatic cancer that has already spread.
Dr Seth Coffelt first thought he would go to medical school, but then became hooked on discovery science at university. He sees cancer as “a puzzle gone haywire that needs solving”, and loves working through new data with his team. Dr Coffelt also enjoys cooking, both due to his love of food and because it is a lot like performing experiments in the lab.
Gamma delta T cells are found within pancreatic tumours, but not within healthy pancreatic tissue. They help the tumour grow and spread and can reorganise the parts that make up a pancreatic tumour to help cancer spread. However, cancer scientists don’t currently understand how pancreatic tumours are able to do this.
Dr Coffelt and his team are using lab models of pancreatic cancer to understand how tumours recruit these cells. They are also using mini pancreatic tumours grown in the lab to find out what signals the T cells use to make other healthy cells support the growth of the tumour.
By understanding how pancreatic tumours influence these healthy cells, Dr Coffelt hopes to uncover new ways to target the immune system and get it to target the cancer itself instead of helping or ignoring it. New options for patients with pancreatic cancer that has already spread has the potential to help many patients that currently have no options available to them.
This project is 50% co-funded with Pancreatic Cancer UK.
Like most people, I know several people who have been afflicted by cancer: my mother, my mother-in-law, my aunt, two of my cousins. These people are often in my mind when I learn something specific about the type of cancer they had.Dr Seth Coffelt
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